Chorizo is vile
… and so are scallops and mussels. Had anyone outside of Spain heard of chorizo ten years ago? A visit to the supermarket and the ready-prepared meals section shows that “chips with everything” no longer describes British cuisine. Now it’s “chorizo with everything.” Or scallops or mussels. Scallops are the cheap filler in any fish pie or fish stew.
There has been a steady move against too much sugar and salt in food. A few years ago a documentary on Marks & Spencer showed the red faced, plump and aggressive boss tasting new pre-prepared food dishes, ignoring the expertise of the chefs, and barking, “More salt!” Now the same supermarket is covered with slogans about reducing salt, though I still find all their ready-prepared food much too salty.
Now they’re putting chorizo in tomato soup
So, what do you do for a cheap strong bolt of flavour? Chorizo. Is chorizo even necessary? It’s smoked sausage flavoured with salt and smoked paprika. It gets around the salt content because it goes on the label as chorizo. Years ago, pre-prepared paella in Britain usually had chicken and prawns. Now it’s chorizo, chicken and prawns. Turn to Ottolenghi’s cookbooks for help. We make a great vegetable paella because we use Spanish smoked paprika powder. It adds exactly the same taste without the salt. You don’t need to eat minced lung, teat and testicle with your smoked paprika. Add it straight for the flavour of Spain. It also works with meat and fish paellas. I spent a lot of time in Spain. I certainly don’t recall “chorizo with everything.” Jamie Oliver published a paella recipe with chorizo, and caused fury among the Spanish, who do NOT regard it as an ingredient of paella. Yet every supermarket paella in Britain includes it.
Smoked paprika: it’s all you need
Restaurants have gone mad on chorizo (and scallops). We eat a lot of pre-theatre meals, where it’s a special menu with a choice of five dishes … always positive, as a list of thirty usually means “boil in the bag” pre-prepared dishes. But this year we keep seeing the same choices everywhere. They’ll have sea bass because it’s farmed and cheaper than anything, except farmed salmon. But it’s a dull bit of fish, so inevitably a seafood sauce (scallops or mussels) is added. Then the only white fish will be cod, and because it’s so bland, they use a well-known Spanish / Portuguese recipe, they add chorizo and tomato sauce.
We mentioned to one theatre restaurant that if you have five choices, three meat, one fish and one vegetarian, it’s madness to put chorizo on the only fish dish. A lot of people choose fish because they prefer it to meat. Some choose it in restaurants because they like fish, but at home it makes the kitchen smell. And in a non-specialist restaurant, the vegetarian option is inevitably an awful add on necessity. A lot of people are “meatless” but will eat fish.
On the five dishes, this year there are four on EVERY menu we see … sea bass, lamb shank, duck leg and pork belly. The last two are recent additions in Britain, but there must be some cheap wholesale supply to restaurants.
The farmed sea bass is about £4 for two small fillets in a supermarket. Restaurants are buying a lot cheaper, so on it goes. Compare Dover sole, or plaice or even haddock in price. A tiny Dover sole in a fishmonger will be near £10. So get the greasy little sea bass slice, and replace missing flavour with seafood.
I went to a very prestigious “fish restaurant” near the beach, where the choice of four fish dishes of the day had chorizo on one, and shellfish on all three of the others. I don’t think I’m violently allergic to shellfish, but I have had red rashes from scallops several times, so I avoid it. I was told that I might not be allergic to shellfish, but merely to toxins it has absorbed. I can’t see the difference. A lot of people are violently allergic to shellfish, period. So you can ask for the dish without the seafood sauce, and you get one unadorned little slice of sea bass and two new potatoes for £16.95. Awful, dull. In contrast, a couple of months earlier in Sussex, we had whole plaice, filleted at the table by the waiter, with nothing but a touch of herbs and butter and it was perfect. And cheaper. And it needed no seafood or chorizo to add flavour.
Face it, chorizo is crap. It’s smoked, processed offcuts of offal, fat and meat. I’m not a vegetarian, though I was for ten years, but that was 30 years ago. At home we eat fish twice or three times a week, vegetarian three times, meat just once or twice.
The best cuts of meat? Really?
I spoke to a chef who told me that he only used the best quality chorizo, made with the best cuts of pork. That defies all culinary logic. If you have good lean cuts of any meat, you serve it as it is. You don’t chop it up with salt, paprika and fat. Sausage is what you do with all the less pleasant bits. Tellingly, once you buy in chorizo, however would you know what the cuts of meat are? Just this morning, the supermarket was selling Paprika Chicken & Chorizo Pizza, and the note on chorizo packs said “Try frying with scallops.” Crap food sticks together, though chorizo seems to be winning the pizza battle with pepperoni.
Just last week we booked a highly-recommended restaurant pre-theatre, walked there and before going in perused the choice of five on the board outside. Sea bass with shellfish sauce, duck leg, pork belly with chorizo, cod with chorizo, a lentil and tomato stew for vegetarians (that’s really cheap). I went in and cancelled our reservation. We intended to just go to Pizza Express (avoiding the pizzas with chorizo), but passed a vegetarian restaurant, where we had baked avocado (one and a half whole avocado each) in tomatoes and a huge courgette spiralized salad. All fresh (and organic) and delicately flavoured with fresh herbs. Wonderful. Half the price of our original booking.
(Funny … I posted this, and checked my e-mail to find a Bookatable mailing about a London restaurant … offering pork fillet with chorizo, and corn-fed chicken with sweetcorn and chorizo. The next mailing, on the prestige Dorset seafood restaurant mentioned above, displayed a menu which included “Wild Poole Bay Flounder … with chorizo.”)
I am not alone. A later addition from Private Eye 14 October 2016: