Making the perfect: Tacos de chorizo

“Alone one cannot share life.” Those are the words legendary Mexican chef Zarela Martinez wrote when she signed my copy of her classic cookbook, “Food From My Heart”, published 20 years ago this year. I had just had lunch with her at her famously fun and convivial restaurant, Zarela’s, on New York City’s upper east side and had told her how much I loved to cook. I had also lamented the fact that I hardly had time to do so; that I was single and working long hours far away from my family. Ever the mother figure, she reminded me the most important thing any cook could have was an audience of loved ones, that cooking was about sharing, and that one could not share alone.

While that’s a lesson that remains with me all these years later, Zarela, who has since closed her restaurant, taught me so much more. It was she who, with fearless and fierce pride, taught me and the rest of New York that Mexican food is elegant, complex, nuanced and gloriously diverse. She also taught me that food was intrinsically connected to our culture, to who we are. I haven’t spoken to Zarela in years now, but every time I see a hot young Latino chef in a magazine or on television—like her very own son, Aarón Sanchez, from the Food Network—I think, of Zarela, the woman who paved the way for so many of them.

Which is why today’s tacos de chorizo recipe is inspired by her. The chorizo recipe is adapted from Food From My Heart, which is a collection of Zarela’s family recipes from her days growing up on a rancho in Mexico. Unlike the cured versions from Spain and other parts of Latin America, Mexican style fresh chorizo is garlicky and flavored with chiles, cinnamon and cloves and can easily be made at home easily. Crumble it into just about anything, like eggs,  potatoes, queso fundido or, of course, tacos.

Homemade chorizo

2 lb ground pork
1 to 2 oz chipotle powder (depending on how spicy you want it)
1 T ground annato
1/4 cup cider vinegar
1/4 cup red wine
2 tsp kosher salt
1 T dried oregano
3/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp fresh ground pepper
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp sugar
4 T canola oil

 1. In a large bowl, combine all the ingredients except the canola oil. Mix thoroughly with your hands to distribute the seasoning evenly. Let rest, covered, overnight in the refrigerator.

2. To cook the mixture, heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Working in batches so as not to crowd the skillet, cook the chorizo mixture about 5 minutes stirring often to fully cook evenly. Remove each batch to a bowl as it is done. Once all the mixture is cooked, drain fat from the meat.

3. To make tacos, heat as many corn tortillas as you need on a comal or griddle. Once heated, top with 2 T of chorizo, some finely diced onions, chopped cilantro and a dollop of guacamole. Serve immediately.
4. If you’re going to store the chorizo for later use, let it cool to room temperature. Once cooled, portion it out into separate heavy duty plastic freezer bags (so you can pull out just what you need when you need it) and freeze. The chorizo can be stored up to 2 months in the freezer.

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