When I was a very young schoolboy I thought everything was either discovered or invented by the Chinese or Leonardo Da Vinci. That wasn’t such a dummy deduction because so much of what we take for granted nowadays did come from those two sources. The Chinese were the first to cultivate many of today’s most popular fruits and veggies — oranges, for instance — and they also invented gunpowder. When Leonardo wasn’t painting the The Last Supper, the Mona Lisa and other masterpieces, he was doing designs for ships that could travel underwater and machines that could fly — today’s submarines and aeroplanes.
But the Chinese or Leonardo didn’t invent sausages. They go right back to the early years of humanity when people had stopped being nomads and were living in settlements, growing edible plants and rearing animals, instead of going out to gather food or hunt it. Those primitive families had a huge problem when they slaughtered an animal: how to conserve the meat for future meals. They had no refrigeration, so they had to find ways of ensuring an animal’s meat would still be palatable in several months’ time.
Early humans were so inventive and creative they eventually found ways of treating fresh meat that would make it safe to eat for up to two years or more. They realised the moisture in meat was a problem and they had to to find a way to get rid of it. A solution was to salt chunks of meat and hang them up to let the air and the salt dry them out. That was some 10,000 years ago and their way of treating meat was so creative we’re still using it today and in many different ways.
It gives us such delights as Iberian cured ham, Italy’s Parma ham, chorizo, salami and a huge range of other charcuterie products including an incredible number of sausages, from England’s fresh Cumberlands to smoked ones from all over the world.
I’m especially fond of fresh meaty sausages that can be fried or grilled and served as they come, with some chips (lots of chips) and a simple green salad with a perky dressing. This type of sausage is widely available in Palma at all supermarkets and also the central Mercat d’Olivar near the Plaza de España, and the Santa Catalina market.
Fresh sausages can be made with beef (ternera) or pork (cerdo) and they can be thin or thick, in some cases thicker than England’s Cumberland sausages and also sold in a spiral shape. Few butcher stalls at the markets have this thick sausage twisted into a spiral, but you’ll always find them at Mercadona and sometimes at El Corte Inglés in Jaime III or the Avenidas.
They look especially inviting when done to a nice deep brown and served on a large round plate with a ring of golden chips straight from the deep-fryer and with thin strips of roasted red peppers scattered over the chips. The spiral can also be served atop buttery mashed potatoes adorned with dollops of creamy sliced onions, everything drizzled with threads of good dark brown gravy enriched with English mustard to taste.
The thickest sausages you’ll find here are the Argentinian chorizos that are always on the menu at the island’s Argentinian and Uruguayan restaurants. Although they are called chorizos, they are always fresh and never cured, as are Spanish chorizos. They are very meaty and ideal for chargrilling, which is how they are served in Argentinian restaurants, always as a starter while waiting for the main course to be grilled. They also make an appearance as part of a mixed grill, a favourite main course for many Argentinians.
Palma has about half a dozen Argentinian butcher shops where you can buy chorizos as well as the special cuts of beef Argentinians use for grilling. You’ll find a couple of them in the Plaza Pedro Garau area but the easiest one to find is Vallespir in Calle Barón de Santa Maria Sepulchre, off the Jaime III, opposite El Corte Inglés. There’s also one in Plaza Alexander Fleming.
Never go to Argentinian butcher shops on a Friday or a Saturday, because that’s when Argentinians are buying for their traditional Sunday chargrill called the ‘asado’. And they’re not there for a couple of steaks and a few chorizos. The ‘asado’ is a big affair to which other members of the family and friends are invited, so there are usually 20 or more people at table. That means a great deal of meat and each customer has a huge order and that takes time. In a small shop like Vallespir off Jaime III, the queue can be out in the street.
You can also try these chorizos at any Argentinian restaurant and that, indeed, would be your best introduction to them. My favourite Argentinian place is El Alpendre in Calle Blanquerna. I always have at least one chorizo when I eat there, and also an ‘empanada de carne’, the crescent-shaped turnover stuffed with minced beef that looks like a tiny Cornish pasty. The empanadas can be baked or deep-fried but most customers want them fried because they are more succulent that way. And also much higher in calories. My most relished dish at El Alpendre, however, is the chargrilled sweetbreads, called ‘mollejas’ in Spanish. It’s a dish that Argentinians (and Uruguayans) do better than any other nation. Sometimes they come grilled in chunks but they can also be sliced before grilling. I have never had a disappointing dish of sweetbreads at an Argentinian restaurant and El Alpendre’s are especially good. Tell the waiter you want them ‘jugosas’ and they will be particularly juicy, tender and tasty.
There’s another kind of chorizo you can get in Palma and you’ll find it at all branches of Mercado. It’s called a ‘chorizo oreado’. That word means aired so it is semi-cured and, therefore, has a longer shelf life than fresh chorizos. On the few occasions I have seen this chorizo at other supermarkets, it was called ‘chorizo blanco’ or white chorizo. It is given that name because unlike the Spanish chorizo it doesn’t contain ‘pimentón dulce’, the reddish paprika spice. This chorizo is especially good for cooking in a fresh tomato sauce and serving Italian style with any kind of pasta. There are two ways of using it. Make a sauce with fresh or canned tomatoes by first sautéing finely chopped onions, carrot, celery and garlic. Then stir in the finely chopped tomatoes and a little stock. Gently sauté the ‘chorizos oreados’ for 15 minutes, add them to the sauce and sauté for another 60 minutes. Serve with the pasta of your choice.
The other way of using this chorizo is to do the recipe as above, but instead of adding the whole sautéed chorizos to the sauce, chop them up into smallish pieces before cooking them in the sauce for an hour or more. You will then have a meaty and very tasty pasta sauce. Stir in your favourite herbs. The Argentinian chorizos also work very well when done as above but they are best kept whole. In this case, I always prefer to cook the chorizos in the sauce for a little longer and also the day before. They are especially succulent that way.
I have another simple (and seasonal) Italian recipe for which I use both of these chorizos, and it fits nicely into next week’s page.
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