For a healthier version, try homemade chicken Mexican chorizo

If you're shy about eating chorizo because it's too greasy, try this homemade Mexican chicken chorizo. Less fat, full flavor!

Mexican chicken chorizo cooked here with onions and diced potatoes.

Food’s role as fuel and nourishment to heal our bodies serves more than just those vital functions in our lives. Food is also emotional with the ability to connect us to others as well as to our pasts. Taste, smell, texture all leave vivid footprints in our brains that linger in our subconscious until experiencing one of those things again recalls a memory or period in our lives, good and bad.

My food memories are a big part of why I started this blog in the first place: my deep desire to share the food of my childhood which I associate with feelings of safety and love. It didn’t matter if it was a humble meal of Mexican rice, beans and fresh flour tortillas when times were lean (unbeknownst to us kids) or homemade pizza, backyard barbecues, or trays of lasagna for someone’s birthday, food in our family went far beyond physical nourishment–it was nourishment for our souls–and a knowledge that my parents where sharing a part of themselves and memories from their childhoods with us.

Some of my childhood memories are filled with Sunday mornings eating fried chorizo and potatoes for breakfast. My father learned to make chorizo from his father and he passed that knowledge on to me. I shared his original recipe here a few years ago. It was a good day for me, that day in the kitchen with dad showing me his father’s recipe, sharing time with him while doing something we both love to do.

I have some friends who don’t know the joy of Mexican chorizo because they either don’t eat pork or find the pork variety too greasy for them.

But here’s the secret: what makes chorizo “chorizo” are the seasonings. Learn them and you can apply it to pretty much any ground protein to make a tasty facsimile of classic chorizo.

What’s the difference between Mexican chorizo and Spanish chorizo?

Mexican chorizo is made from ground fatty meat–most usually pork–flavored with chiles, vinegar, garlic, Mexican oregano and other spices according to region and family traditions. It is raw, usually sold in plastic casing or loose at butcher counters and must be cooked and lightly browned before consuming much in the same manner as ground beef.

The main difference between Mexican and Spanish chorizo is that Mexican chorizo is raw and needs to be cooked first.

Spanish chorizo, on the other hand, is a dry-cured hard sausage made from chopped pork, garlic and Spanish smoked paprika. It can be spicy or sweet depending on the paprika used and is ready to eat as is or can be grilled or sautéed.

The main thing to remember is that these sausages are not interchangeable in recipes. If a recipe calls for Spanish chorizo, you cannot substitute it for the raw Mexican variety. You’re better off substituting Spanish chorizo with a Portuguese linguiça which is also a smoked sausage flavored with paprika and though it often needs to be cooked, it is a solid sliceable sausage with similar taste profile.

How to make Mexican chorizo from scratch: the meat

Making homemade Mexican chorizo isn’t as intimidating as you might think. If you’ve followed my blog for a while and have tried the recipes that work with dried chiles, you’re halfway there. If you’re new, no worries! I walk you through the process.

Yes, you can use chicken for homemade chorizo

Today, we’re focusing on chicken as our protein for our homemade chorizo. My suggestion is to use dark meat, not white. You need the fattier meat both for flavor and texture.

Deboning your own chicken will, besides saving a few pennies, give you more control over the quality of the chicken you use.

You can get boneless, skinless thighs but I prefer to buy organic skin-on, bone-in and debone the thighs at home to know exactly what’s going into my chorizo.

Leaving all the fat intact and removing half of the skins will ensure that there is enough fat to keep the sausage tender and juicy.

Also, when preparing the thighs, I leave the skin on half of them because again, the skin adds to the finished texture of the sausage as well as adding a bit more fat.

Preparing the meat: meat grinder vs. food processor 

You’re going to want a meat grinder for this, either a hand crack or, what I use, a food grinding attachment for the Kitchenaid. Granted, you could use a food processor in a pinch but I find the texture lacking. It’s unevenly minced, the meat passing the blades more randomly, often causing some of the meat to take on a paste-like consistency. Meat passes the blades of a meat grinder once and you can control the size of the grind with grinding plates. I find the texture lighter, more uniform which translates into a better cooked texture.

After cutting the chicken into 1-inch pieces, place the chicken in the refrigerator and the grinder in the freezer for at least an hour.

Meat should be cut into 1-inch pieces and should be refrigerated for at least an hour to make sure it’s nice and chilled before grinding. The grinder or grinding attachment should go into the freezer while the meat is chilling out in the fridge. The reason is, again, because of texture. Grinding is friction. Friction produces heat. You don’t want the fat in the meat to melt and get left behind in the grinder. Fat is texture, juiciness, flavor and you need it to balance the bold flavor of the chiles.

When it comes to sausage, fat is good

All this talk of fat, you’re probably thinking, hey, this is gonna be just as greasy as the pork variety! No, trust me, it won't. It’s because there is so little fat compared to a fatty Boston butt cut of pork that we need to do all we can to preserve what little relative fat there is in the chicken to ensure a tasty, juicy end product.

How to make Mexican chorizo from scratch: the seasoning

The base of a chorizo is a traditional Mexican adobo sauce: chiles, garlic, apple cider vinegar, and spices.
To prep chiles, the stems get removed, the chile sliced up the side and then the veins and seeds removed.

Every family uses a slightly different combination of chiles, some using just one, others 4 our five. My recipe uses 4 but only two are non-negotiable: the guajillo for color and slightly sweet and fruitiness and ancho, for it’s mild heat, earthiness and smoky profile. I also add California, a favorite of our family, which has slightly more heat than guajillo but is still not spicy, it’s flavor is sharp and slightly acidic. I also add chipotle in adobo sauce and here is where you can control the heat: one chipotle keeps the chorizo kid-friendly while 4 or 5–or more–gets you into fire hazard zone.

Use a spice grinder to grind the whole spices.

Now, don’t be intimidated by the number of spices here: good chorizo, like most classic Mexican dishes, are all about the layering of flavor. These spices are pretty common ones, at least they are in my pantry and will be in yours if you plan on cooking more Mexican dishes.

The chiles and spices get pureed with some vinegar until thick and smooth.
The adobo sauce gets added to the meat and mixed thoroughly.

Once the chiles have rehydrated, and the spices are ground they simply get blended together along with some vinegar and water and, once cooled down completely, gets massaged into the meat. At this point, the meat is ready to portion out into freezer bags, cooked immediately or it can hang out in the fridge for a day or two, while the chile flavors intensify.

How to cook chorizo

I suggest a nonstick skillet or well-seasoned cast iron one. Unlike pork chorizo, you’re going to need a teaspoon of oil to get the party started here. At it’s most basic preparation, you simply add the chorizo to the hot skillet, breaking up meat with a spatula. Cook the chorizo for about 6 to 8 minutes or until just starting to brown or until very heavily browned and slightly crispy, it’s all personal preference. From there you can add it to a warmed taco and munch away.

A traditional way to serve Mexican chorizo is to cook it with cubed potatoes.

Here are a couple more suggestions:

  • Sauté sliced onions until softened then add the meat and brown together until the chorizo is cooked. Then crack a couple eggs in and scramble them for a relatively quick breakfast burrito or tacos
  • Dice potatoes and cook until fork tender. Remove from pan then cook sliced onions along with the chorizo. When chorizo is cooked, add back the potatoes and heat through. Serve as is, in tacos or over rice. 
  • Cook chorizo the basic way as described then add a can of drained pinto beans plus ¼ cup of water and mash the beans to desired texture for a bumped up version of refried beans
  • Combine the chorizo with ground beef. Form patties, grilling or cooking them in a cast iron for a spin on the average hamburger
  • Replace chorizo for ground beef in a meat sauce for pasta
  • Use it in meatloaf, replacing 1/3 of the beef with chorizo

Ready to make chorizo?

Mexican chorizo cooked with potatoes makes a great filling for tortillas, empanadas, even for tamales.

Here’s my recipe for homemade Mexican chicken chorizo. I hope you love it as much as my family does.

Mexican Chicken Chorizo

Save the bones and skin from the thighs and freeze for the next time you need to make homemade chicken stock. They’ll add tons of flavor! I use a dry hard bristled pastry brush to aggressively brush off dust from the dried chiles because I like to use the chile water for blending the chiles. Chipotles in adobo sauce are sold in cans. I like to portion out the leftovers into snack-sized resealable bags and toss them into the freezer for later use. You’re also going to want a pair of food-handling gloves for when you mix the sauce into the meat. The sauce will stain your hands (and your clothing so wear an apron). 

Makes about 4 pounds; 1 pound serves 3-4 people depending on preparation (served alone versus cooked with eggs or potatoes, or mixed with beef for burgers, etc.)

5 ½ - 6 pounds bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs, preferably organic
2 ounces dried guajillo chiles, about 8-9
2 ounces dried ancho chiles, about 3
2 ounces dried California chiles, about 6-7
1-3 chipotle peppers in adobo sauce
1 ½ cups apple cider vinegar, divided use
Water, as needed
5 whole allspice berries
4 whole cloves
1 generous teaspoon whole Mexican oregano
¼ teaspoon whole cumin seeds
¼ teaspoon whole coriander seeds
1-inch piece canela (Mexican cinnamon, also called Ceylon cinnamon)
¼ teaspoon whole peppercorns
¼ teaspoon ground ginger
1 ½ teaspoons sea salt, or to taste
1 teaspoon paprika
2 cloves garlic, peeled

Place the grinder or grinding attachment in the freezer.

Using a very sharp paring knife, deboning knife or kitchen shears, carefully remove and discard or freeze the bones from the thighs for later use. Remove and discard or freeze for later use, the skins from half of the thighs. Cut the chicken into 1-inch pieces. Toss chicken into a bowl, or onto a sheet pan and cover with cling film. Place in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour.

In the meantime, use a hard bristled pastry or kitchen brush to brush off the dust from the chiles. Cut the stems off, slice the chiles down one side and remove the veins and seeds. Place the chiles in a small stock pot and add 1 cup of the vinegar. Add enough water to cover the chiles by 1 inch. Bring pot to a boil then lower to a simmer for 5 minutes. Turn off heat, cover and allow to steep for 15 minutes. Add the chiles to the jar of a blender along with ½ cup of the steeping liquid and the ½ cup of reserved vinegar. Place the whole spices into a spice grinder and grind to a powder; add them along with the already ground spices and the garlic to the blender jar. Puree until smooth, adding some of the chile soaking water as needed to get a smooth sauce the consistency of ketchup. Set the sauce aside to cool completely.

Remove the chicken and grinder/grinding attachment from the refrigerator. Working quickly before the chill is off the meat, grind the meat using a medium grinding plate or plate of your preference. When meat is ground, pour in ⅔ of the adobo sauce. Wearing food-handling gloves, thoroughly mix in the sauce, adding more sauce a little at a time if the meat is dry. The sausage should be fairly wet but should still hold together when formed into a patty. (Store leftover adobo in the fridge and use to marinate steaks, chicken or pork chops or toss with roasted root vegetables.)

Heat a small nonstick skillet on medium until hot then add a few drops of cooking oil. Add a tablespoon of the chorizo and cook, stirring frequently until the chorizo is cooked through, about 5 minutes. Taste for seasoning, adding more salt to the raw chorizo mixture if needed. Divide the chorizo into 1 pound portions, keep one in the refrigerator and use within 4 days; freeze the remainder to have whenever you need a quick meal.

Until next time by friends … ¡Buen Provecho!
xo, ani