The night before I traveled down to New Jersey to unite with my mother, aunt, cousin and niece to make “chouriço” (Portuguese smoked sausage), “O Lenço da Carolina” by Fado singer Cristina Branco came on via Portuguese satellite TV. Though it’s a song about a person in love, all I could think about (as tears unexpectedly streamed down my face) was the immigrant’s journey.
In the song, the person in love is giving Carolina a rosemary-scented kerchief. This very same person has tucked a map with an X over their “ninho” (nest), so that Carolina doesn’t forget it or ever get lost. It made me think of the small things that immigrants pack in their suitcases before adventuring on to unknown lands. The small things that keep us connected to our origins, the small things that we revisit when the “saudade” kicks in. It’s the last, small thing a mother places on top of a suitcase before her son zippers it up and takes off. These small things aren’t always tangibles. For many of us, it’s a feeling, a memory, a song, a scent …a desire to travel back to Portugal.
I wiped the tears off my face, and realized that the reason I was so eager to make chouriço with these four women (the oldest in her 60s and the youngest, 7) wasn’t simply to eat what I could easily buy at a Portuguese supermarket; it was to open up the suitcase of my mind, where I packed all my intangible “kerchiefs.” What I tap to be transported back to that place and with those people during a certain point and time in my life. It was to revive with these women a special custom that reminds us of those that are no longer with us. In our case, this moment evoked my maternal grandmother, Isaura, who smoked sausages every winter (the time of year this meat ritual takes place) in rural Portugal. This was especially sweet because we were sharing this special moment with my American-born niece, Julia. Like every child of Portuguese descent here, she is a Luso-American, and is learning about Portuguese traditions through unique moments like an afternoon of making chouriço.
Food is undeniably one of the strongest ways for immigrants to stay connected to their places of origin. It’s also an excellent way to help new generations understand their family roots. These moments allow immigrants to recreate in their new homes what they left behind, what they couldn’t pack in that suitcase, if you will. With my family in America, it’s always been that way. This time it was chouriço-making, a first for me in America. Growing up, my mother and her family in Portugal made chouriço and many other types of smoked sausages that fall under the category of “enchidos” each year after the slaughter of the pig, the annual “matança do porco.”
I recall being present at this annual ritual at a very young age, probably 7 like Julia. It’s definitely been a very long time since my mother has been to a traditional Portuguese pig slaughter—so she (and everyone involved in our chouriço-making session) is out of practice, all of us essentially novices at this point. But my mother got the itch to make chouriço this February—her saudade was kicking in. And somehow, she managed to convince a few more bodies to join her.
A week prior to my arrival from Connecticut, she, her older sister Lucinda and my cousin Sandra (who also live in NJ), seasoned pounds and pounds of cubed pork meat – sans slaughter, which a few days later was ready to stuff into the cow intestine my mother washed, cut and divided up to use as sausage casings. The result: 90 chouriços! Were we satisfied with the results? Mostly yes, but there were lessons learned that we’ll keep in mind next time around (see: How to make it, below). Yes, we’re crazy enough to do this again. Believe it or not, the sausages are all gone! Word to the wise: Don’t post on Facebook that you have 90 sausages. Everybody and their mother will want one.
I guess to make it simple most sources tell us to pronounce the second “c” in chouriço as a “z,” but that’s not quite right. I completely understand that the Portuguese language is not the easiest to master, but I think it would be more accurate to suggest pronouncing it this way “sho-ree-soo.” Otherwise, the “z” sound hardly helps distinguish the Portuguese pronunciation from the Spanish version.
Since Portuguese “chouriço” is often confused with its Spanish cousin “chorizo,” I decided to give Lopes’s shop a call to inquire about the differences between the two sausages. The woman who answered the phone explained that the biggest difference is in the amount of paprika used. The Spanish chorizo has a much greater percentage of paprika than the Portuguese chouriço, she said. On the other hand, the Portuguese chouriço is smokier than Spanish chorizo. She also highlighted Portuguese chouriço’s versatility. It can be eaten cold (charcuterie-style), fried, grilled and boiled, which makes it a popular ingredient in Portugal’s hearty soups. The most famous: Kale soup or “Caldo Verde.”
While I was at it, I asked about the differences between “chouriço” and “linguiça”, another smoked sausage term often used by Portuguese immigrants in New England, especially Massachusetts. “Can linguiça be used interchangeably with chouriço,” I asked. She said that there’s hardly any difference between the two smoked sausages, except that the linguica is thinner and lends itself best to frying and grilling. By the way, you can usually also buy Spanish chorizo at these Portuguese shops.
Suggestion: Might be fun to create a mixed Iberian smoked sausage charcuterie plate. Note: Due to Portuguese and Spanish colonization, you’ll also find variations of these smoked sausages in countries influenced by both cultures.
There are many ways to use chouriço in Portuguese recipes. However, the most famous is the “Cozido a Portuguesa”, a stew of boiled smoked sausages, legumes and potatoes. There’s also the flambé chouriço, a staple at Portuguese-American restaurants where the flambéing is done tableside atop a traditional earthenware dish where Portuguese “aguardente” is poured into and fired up to char the chouriço. Shove smoky sausage rounds into crusty, Portuguese rolls; pour yourself a full-bodied Touriga Nacional—and it’s a party, my friends!
Making chouriço may seem daunting, but it’s considerably easier than you imagine. But to make your life easier, we’ve put together a Comprehensive Chouriço Recipe for you to follow while happily listening to Portuguese music and sipping upon a bottle of Port Wine. Yes, this is a requirement, because there’s rarely a moment when cooking and wine doesn’t go hand-in-hand!
Though should have any questions, never hesitate to contact us. And most importantly, come visit Portugal to savor these delicious morsels in their homeland. We have a fantastic Foodie Tour of Portugal that will not only satiate your tastebuds, but will help give you a profound sense as to why visitors immediately fall in love with the Portuguese people. They’re not only foodies, but irresistibly loving!
The Portuguese supermarket chain, Seabra’s is probably the easiest place to find chouriço, since there are several locations in a few different states throughout the U.S. However, two of my family’s favorite places to buy chouriço (and other Portuguese smoked sausages) is at Lopes in Ironbound-Newark and Simoes & Almeida in Kearny:
Lopes Sausage Co.
304 Walnut St., Newark, NJ 07105
Simoes & Almeida
193 Windsor St.
Kearny, NJ 07032
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