Kitchen Cheat : Chorizo & New Ingredient : Spaghetti Squash

This is the first of my Cheat Posts.

As a chef I am always interested in new ingredients and it is always exciting when these ingredients are from Mesoamerica.

As a single mother I am always looking for food that is both healthy and exciting (if not exciting then at least interesting) for my child and, as a time poor single mother, I am always appreciative of a short cut or a substitution for a needed ingredient.

In this case the new ingredient was a spaghetti squash given to me by a work colleague who received it in an organic veggie box delivery and who had absolutely no idea what to do with it.

I too was at a loss as to what to do with it. Although I could identify it I had never seen one “in the flesh” (so to speak) nor had I ever eaten it in a dish. I have experimented with zucchini “noodles” in the past (as a substitute for fettucine in a carbonara styled dish) and had great success.

So, off to Google I went to get some idea of how to use this vegetable. I came across a recipe that piqued my interest but I was short one ingredient. Chorizo.

So. What to do? Easy. Make chorizo. Here’s where the cheating comes in.

First find a chorizo recipe. I consulted my biblioteca de cocina mexicana for chorizo recipes and spice blends and came up with this list.

I have had success with the chorizo verde (next time I make it I’ll Post on it) but for this I needed a chorizo rojo.

This is the spice mix I went with

  • 2 tablespoons ancho chile powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground coriander seed
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground dried ginger
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 teaspoon hot paprika
  • 1 teaspoon Mexican oregano
  • 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar

Next. Gather and prepare your spices

Some in my pantry were already ground so they were easy. I was also lucky in that I had ground ancho chile in my pantry as well. Some of the other spices were whole so I had to dry roast these in a pan and grind them myself.

Now we get to the cheat bit. No pork and pork fat to grind to a suitable texture so I’m using……………..

………plain old pork sausages. The cheapest and most beastly of all the pork products.

First we remove the “meat” (1) from the casing. This sausage had an artificial skin (2) which is not unusual. Normal sausage skin can be quite delicate. Try making your own sausages and you’ll get what I mean.

  1. and I use the term loosely
  2. typically it is the cleaned intestine of the animal (usually pig) that is used as the sausage casing. If the skins are naturally sourced then you could just cook them and eat them. This is similar to the dish known as chitterlings (chitlins) which is the cooked small intestines of “domestic animals” (again, usually pig). These can be boiled and fried (or stuffed “like a sausage”)

Then we add the spices and the vinegar and mash until well combined. In this case I found the chorizo to be less red than I wanted. Next time I’ll double (or even triple) the paprika content. I think I’ll use a mixture of sweet and hot paprika. I’m not feeling the smoked paprika in this dish.

The next day……

Now to test it. The scent of the spices as the pork fried was delicious. It immediately drew the attention of my daughter as she came through the front door after returning from her morning run.

A quick “burrito” with my favourite flatbread.
I needed neither the Tapatio or Frankie’s Tequila Jalapenos as the chile in the recipe supplied enough heat.
Frankie’s Tequila Jalapenos.
I received them as a surprise Christmas gift.
Seek them out.

A tasty substitution has been created.

Now, why am I even doing all of this?

New ingredient.

Calabaza Espagueti (Spaghetti squash).

This is an interesting calabaza. It has been described as having “originated” in China or as being “developed” or “first recorded” in Manchurian China in the 1800’s. It is generally accepted however that it originally came from the Americas but no-one knows when. Perhaps it is like the zucchini which originated in the Americas but was developed into a new variety by the Italians (Lust & Paris 2016). Some references (Beany etal 2002) totally neglect the Chinese origins of the squash and put its development down to Israel in the 1980’s.

The Burpee Seed catalogue first advertised Spaghetti Squash in 1936. Below is an image of the 1937 catalogue (spaghetti squash in bottom right corner). According to the University of Arkansas’ Division of Agriculture Research & Extension the origins of spaghetti squash are thus “According to the best guesses of its origin story, the source material for vegetable spaghetti came from Manchurian (China) farmers who had developed the plant as a fodder crop around 1850. In 1934, the Sakata Seed Company in Japan acquired some seed and offered wholesale lots to seed retailers around the world. Burpee added vegetable spaghetti in 1936 and it had some popularity during the Victory Garden days of World War II, but it never really caught on. In 1960, Sakata reintroduced the seed line to the market. In 1964 the English seed company Thompson and Morgan, which had a fairly wide American distribution of catalogs, featured the plant prominently. The counter-culture movement was in full swing across the nation and the hippies in California started growing the plant as a healthier alternative than traditional spaghetti. By the early 1970’s the Green Revolution and the back-to-the-land movement exploded across America. Frieda’s Finest began promoting the crop and making it available to groceries in 1975. By 1980 it had become mainstream.”

The squash I received……….

Spaghetti squash
(Cucurbita pep var. fastigata)

………..and it was the following recipe that drove my need for chorizo.

I went back to find the original source for this recipe and had a little trouble. It took me a couple of days but then, a little to my surprise, I found it was a Rick Bayless recipe (1). Rick Bayless is a North American chef who started off as a linguistic anthropologist with a side love of food. A love of classic French cuisine led him to the life of a chef and his proximity to and love of México soon drew him in to the rich living history of the cuisines of los Estados Unidos Mexicanos. Ricks history with Mexican cuisine has been controversial and drawn the ire of cultural appropriationists (2). I have (briefly) Posted on this before (3) and think a lot of this controversy arises from reactionary keyboard warriors who leap into diatribe before obtaining all the facts. A Podcast I love (no longer operating though I’m afraid) is Latinos Who Lunch (see website references for a link to the episode). The hosts, Babelito (art historian) and FavyFav (artist) are two cross border Latinos who sit around like a pair of hobbits and discuss (amongst other things) the meals they have eaten since they last saw each other. These two discuss Rick on occasion and are quite critical of him. In the episode whose link I have supplied in the References a Latino intellectual gives them a different perspective on Rick and it is beautiful to see understanding blossom in them.

  1. https://www.rickbayless.com/recipe/spaghetti-squash-fideos-with-chipotle-chorizo-crema-and-avocado/
  2. See website links in the Reference section at the bottom of this Post for a small selection of articles on this subject. Alternatively just Google “Rick Bayless” and “cultural appropriation” and strap yourself in for the ride.
  3. See Post : “Cultural” Appropriation of Cuisines?

Time to cook.

The squash itself.

By the look and the feel of the squash I expected it to be softer fleshed in nature. I was gentle with the squash as the skin seemed like that of a zucchini and I was worried that rough handling might damage the skin (and the storage viability of the vegetable as a result)(1). This proved to be an unfounded worry. It was as hard as any pumpkin to cut and was brittle in the same way some pumpkins can be. Typically when I cook pumpkins I leave the skin on and the skin is usually eaten. After cooking Señor Espagueti I realised this would not be an option. The skin was more like a jicara and I’m certain that if I had taken more care in scooping out the flesh I could indeed have used it as a drinking vessel.

  1. the whole, undamaged and uncut, vegetable can be stored in a dry, dark, cool place for 3 or more months
jicaras are small drinking vessels/bowls made from the skin of the fruits of certain types of gourd (calabash)

Now for the rest of the ingredients

  • 1 can fire roasted tomatoes
  • 1 chipotle chile (en adobo) and 1 Tablespoon of the adobo
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • 1/2 cup grated cheese
  • 1/3 cup sour cream (no crema at hand)

The chipotle and the cheese were easy enough.

No canned, fire roasted tomatoes in my pantry so I’m substituting with 4 smallish tomatoes roasted on the comal and 1 Tablespoon of tomato paste diluted with 1/4 cup of water. Cooking vegetables this way (on a hot, dry – not oiled – comal/hotplate) is a process known as “tatemar”. This is a cooking procedure/skill that is vitally important to Mexican culinary practices and should be part of your repertoire of skills. I have a Post on this in the works.

Now to blend my tomato salsa. Now we come across the next problem. I don’t have a large blender, just a small one that is used for making smoothies. My daughter has however used both of the containers and I am unable to find either so the blender is not an option.

Time to go Old School.

Out comes the molcajete. With my licuadora azteca I am able to grind my tomatoes (charred skin and all) into a paste that has a completely different texture to that of a blended tomato.

These three ingredients now become the base of my salsa.

In the meantime my squash has finished cooking. Its aroma was delightful.

The squash shredded easily simply by scraping it with a fork. It was delicious just like this. I could have tossed it with a little melted butter and eaten it just as it was.

Ingredients ready.

Time to complete the dish.

The jug in the background contains my chicken “broth”. Here I cheated again. I had no broth so I used a stock cube dissolved in 250ml (1 cup) of hot water. Using this, instead of broth, means I now need to take into consideration the salt content of the recipe. Stock cubes can be quite salty so, as was needed in this case, my salting of the dish was more subdued. Another excellent substitution option for chicken broth is a powdered bone broth by a company called Nutra Organics. They do a Miso Ramen chicken bone broth that makes an excellent substitute for a chicken broth and the miso adds a delicious umami to the finished dish.

We start off by frying our cheat chorizo. I want to draw as much oil as I can from the chorizo so I cook it on a low heat and have added 1/4 cup of water (which I have read as being a trick to help draw out more oil from the chorizo). Remove the chorizo from the pan, saving as much oil in the pan as you can, and set the cooked chorizo aside for later. I ended up with a couple of Tablespoons of oil. This is perfect, if you have less than this then just add a little vegetable oil (or other cooking oil) to make up to 2 Tablespoons. In goes your finely chopped garlic clove. Fry over a medium heat until starting to turn golden.

  1. heat the pan over a medium – high heat and pour in the salsa. You want it to sizzle.
  2. cook over med/high heat until it thickens and turns several shades darker. This process is integral in the construction of many Mexican “sauces”
  3. add the chicken broth

Add your spaghetti to the sauce. Then, and I missed photographing this bit, add your sour cream (crema) and half the cheese to the pan. Add most of the cooked chorizo back to the pan (save some for garnishing your finished dish). Mix to incorporate.

Now we’re ready to serve

Place your spaghetti in a bowl and top with some of the fried, crumbled chorizo and grated cheese.

Eat.

This dish was well received. So much so that I got into trouble for eating the last of the left overs the next day. I was looking forward to a bowl of it all day as I sat in my office chair waiting for the clock to tick down to closing time (as was my daughter apparently). The spaghetti reminded me, in texture, of a, slightly soft, green papaya salad (my daughter said it reminded her of grated carrot). The sauce was creamy and silky in texture and had a nice smooth heat to it. My Cheats Chorizo fit the bill nicely and is something I will likely do again, even if it’s only for eggs and chorizo for breakfast.

I once again apologise for the quality of the photography. I obviously need a camera better than the one on my Android phone. The quality will improve (probably) I promise.

References

  • Beany, A.H., P.J. Stoffella, N. Roe, and D.H. Picha. 2002. Production, fruit quality, and nutritional value of spaghetti squash. p. 445–448. In: J. Janick and A. Whipkey (eds.), Trends in new crops and new uses. ASHS Press, Alexandria, VA.
  • Teresa A. Lust and Harry S. Paris, “Italian horticultural and culinary records of summer squash (Cucurbita pepo Cucurbitaceae) and emergence of the zucchini in 19th-century Milan” Annals of Botany 2016, vol. 118,
  • Maynard, D.N., G.J. Hochmuth, C.S. Vavrina, W.M. Stall, T.A. Kucharek, S.E. Webb, T.G. Taylor, and S.A. Smith. 2001. Cucurbit production in Florida. p. 151–178. In: D.N. Maynard and S.M. Olson (eds.), Vegetable production guide for Florida. Univ. Florida, IFAS, Extension, Gainesville.

Websites

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