I like almost everything about a good chorizo soup. I like how spicy, smoky chorizo turns the broth an almost bloody shade. I like how the broth stays thin, like a tonic that happens to house bites to fill the belly. But mostly, I like how the first taste plonks me right back into the creaky wooden chair at that truck stop somewhere between Rioja and Madrid, when my husband and I were traveling with a five-month-old in Spain in 2009. Graham was cranky after hours in the car, but when the soup landed, glorious fat bubbles bobbing at the edges of chipped ceramic bowls, pork and chickpeas swimming frantically, he silenced long enough for us to eat with both hands. When we finished, only a thin orange rim of spice clung to the inside edge of each bowl.
I’ve been trying to remake that soup ever since. Sometimes I add different types of pork, or kale, or tomatoes. I’ve nailed the way the paprika smokes itself up into my nose. I think I’ve figured out how to add just a hint of sherry vinegar, for the right tang. But that elusive broth–I never did quite get the broth right. It was never pure enough. It was never red enough.
Last weekend, inspired by a novel that talks about Hemingway’s time in Spain, I bought some chorizo from Sea Breeze Farm at my local farmers’ market. I thought it would be the same soup I’d made before, but as soon as the meat hit the pan, I could smell a different kind of success. I smelled the spice I’d been missing in the broth. All along, I’d simply been using the wrong chorizo.
As the soup simmered, I smelled warmth and winter. I smelled Christmas. The ingredients on Sea Breeze’s sausage list the usual suspects–pork, garlic, paprika, etc.–but they don’t list cloves or allspice or cinnamon, which were what I thought I tasted in my bowl when we finally sat.
I changed a few things. I skipped the pimenton de la vera I typically add, because the sausage had enough already. I added water instead of broth, because I wanted to taste chorizo, not chicken. The soup was perfect–right color, right texture, right fat bubbles, everything.
The lingering question, of course, is how I’ll make the chorizo on my own, if I want to doctor my own ground pork to the same perfection. They must have used a high ratio of pork fat, or perhaps ground pork belly, because both the meat and the broth had a silkiness only attributable to fat. I have a sneaking suspicion that those sausages may have depended on the pig’s blood for those Christmassy flavors.
So I need your help. Have you made chorizo before? What recipe have you used? I’d love to know more. I have a mission, and it tastes like a truck stop in Spain.
Pan-Roasted Chorizo and Parsnip Soup (PDF)
Serves 2 to 4
Made by first searing bulk chorizo in big chunks in a pan, then combining it with browned vegetables, this rich wintry stew has the appeal of a roadside soup stop I once visited in Spain. The secret to this soup is the chorizo; find one with lots of spicy, smoky flavor—or add a bit of spicy smoked Spanish paprika with the thyme, if you doubt your chorizo.
Note: I used a wide cast-iron pan for this recipe, to allow as much room as possible for the vegetables to brown without steaming, but you could also use your favorite Dutch oven or soup pot.
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 pound bulk chorizo
1/2 medium onion, chopped
2 medium parsnips, chopped
2 small carrots, chopped
4 small celery ribs, chopped
2 medium cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 cup dry red wine
4 cups water or chicken broth
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
Heat a large (at least 12-inch), deep, heavy skillet over medium-high heat. When hot, add the oil, then the chorizo, breaking it up into roughly 1-inch chunks as you add it. (Think meatballs.) Cook the chorizo for 10 to 15 minutes, turning once or twice, leaving the chorizo as intact as possible as it cooks. Transfer the chorizo to a plate and set aside.
Add the onion, parsnips, carrots, and celery to the pan, and cook, stirring every once in a while, until the vegetables are soft and browned in spots. Stir in the garlic and thyme, season with salt and pepper, and add the wine. Cook, stirring, occasionally, until the wine has almost entirely evaporated. Return the chorizo (and any collected juices) to the pan, add the water and vinegar (you may need to transfer it to a bigger pan, if you didn’t start with a 12-incher), and simmer for 20 to 30 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender and the soup has a rich red color. Adjust seasonings and serve warm.