Chorizo takes your pizza menu to the next level

Chorizo Meatball Pizza Photo by Josh Keown
Chorizo Meatball Pizza
Photo by Josh Keown

Chorizo is one famous sausage with many forms and variations around the globe. In the States, it has been often overlooked as one of the most flexible and flavorful toppings to grace a pizza. This Spanish sausage –– with its unique ruby color and slightly acidic, smoky-garlic flavor profile, what the large sausage corporations are now calling, “on trend flavor” –– are just waiting to fuse with any of your existing toppings and increase sales faster than saying “Don Quixote.”

After the Black Plague, the population of Europe began to increase and the rush was on for cheaper protein that would keep longer than fresh flesh. Christopher Columbus was intrigued by the smoked and dried red pepper powder from the New World and brought paprika back to Ferdinand and Isabella after his second voyage. They hated it, but his spice fit well with the new trend in salting, drying and curing sausage that Europeans were experimenting with, so the Spaniards added it to lean or fatty pork along with garlic, red bell peppers and red chili pepper flakes and other spices. Although Spanish Chorizo is thought to have its origins in the Catalan xoriço, there are now 17 different varieties of chorizo. Mexican and South American chorizo is much spicier because of the liberal use of hot red peppers.

My own obsession with chorizo was after seeing my friend Bruno di Fabio win at the International Pizza Challenge at the Pizza Expo in Las Vegas last year. His pizza was fantastic –– a thick, cold fermented crust with a sauce of hand-crushed, de-stemmed, de-seeded San Marzano tomatoes, macerated with one whole garlic clove, (taken out after 24 hours) and added on the crust with hand-torn basil then topped with aged mozzarella, burrata and shaved Grana Padana. Then he added the thin-sliced chorizo and beautiful bright green Castelveltrano olives and roasted cherry tomatoes. I was captivated as the chorizo’s fat leached just enough aggressive spicy dew over the mozzarella and brought together the burrata cream, olive brine and sweet tomato into a great rugby match of flavor.

Bulk Chorizo comes in many styles. “Mexican-style” tends to be spicy and can be bought in bulk for 16 cents an ounce raw. Spanish, or mild raw, chorizo comes conveniently in three-pound tubes for 22 cents an ounce and pre-cooked patties are 29 cents an ounce. There really is no better sausage presentation on a pizza than the raw application because of the glorious melting fat, but other considerations for using bulk raw chorizo are as follows.

  • If your staff is not Sani-safe trained and/or not trained on putting raw sausage on an uncooked pizza, you may have issues. Raw sausage should only be topped on a pizza by pressing down a small dollop with your thumb and finger into a nickel or quarter shape to ensure thorough cooking.
  • If you do not properly cost out the “shrinkage” from cooking raw sausage, that 29 cents per ounce can become 35 cents per ounce on each pie after cooking. If you have a heavy-handed make line person putting six ounces of chorizo on a pie, it will cost you $2.10 each! This means a bare-bones cheese pizza (including box) costing you $1.80 is now a one-topping chorizo pie that costs you $3.90. If your market can handle you charging $14.99 for this pizza, it will be a 26-percent food cost and initial profit of $11.09 each.

One of chorizo’s main flavor components is paprika. I make chorizo from fresh local pork. You’ll find that smoked paprika is 20 to 25 cents more an ounce than regular Spanish paprika, but offers a more deep and lingering back-of-the throat flavor than the cheaper Spanish version. Chorizo is best served with: roasted red peppers, cheddar, Asiago, beans, apples, chicken, clams, roasted garlic, onions, potatoes, sweet potatoes, thyme, tomatoes, mozzarella, cilantro, basil, cinnamon and cumin. I’ve also found that chorizo is great with fennel, endive, radicchio, cauliflower and kohlrabi. Heck, it’s even awesome –– yes, I know, send the hitman — wrapped with Prosciutto di Parma!

Chorizo Meatballs
I make these meatballs every weekend on large pizzas al metro and schiacciata and with all sorts of Spanish and Mexican cheeses. The meatballs are wonderful islands in a sea of cheese and melt like the finest eye-candy! The small breading soaks up the egg and solidifies the ball when baked.

1 pound ground, fatty pork
1¾ ounces smoked paprika
1/8 ounce garlic powder
1/16 ounce salt
½ ounce chopped roasted garlic
2½ ounces browned pizza cornicione, (pizza crust) chopped in small dice (You can also use a bread.)
1 egg
1 ounce fresh chopped cilantro
1 ounce fresh chopped basil
2 ounces diced red onion, roasted or sautéed with oil until translucent
Pinch oregano Pinch coriander
Pinch cinnamon
Pinch pepper

Cook’s Note: If you have less fatty pork, you can incorporate small chunks of bacon into this mix. Place all ingredients in a large bowl and mix with a gloved hand.

Place plastic wrap over bowl and refrigerate overnight to let flavors meld and set.

The next day, roll out into 1½-ounce balls and place on a parchment-paper covered large sheet pan. Place into a 425 F oven for six minutes and then pull out and roll each ball so as not to burn and/or flatten the bottom of each ball. Cook for another five to eight minutes until done. You can slice each meatball in half to get the wonderful half-sphere effect on pizzas or quarter them if you need a better “spread” on the pie.

John Gutekanst owns Avalanche Pizza in Athens, Ohio. He is speaker at International Pizza Expo and a member of the World Pizza Champions.

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