In my previous post, I shared the story of the sister cities of Saitama (Japan) and Toluca (Mexico), and mentioned that they both have a long tradition as producers of some of the best pork products – specifically sausage – in their respective countries. While working in Japan for a year, one of my daughters noticed pork sausage being a common item in take-out dishes, particularly bento (lunch) boxes; in her photos, below, two examples:
Japan’s history of pigs goes back to their introduction to Okinawa from mainland Asia as far back as the early Yayoi-Heian period (1700–2000 BP), later developing greatly during the Samurai era because of their relatively easier maintenance, compared to cattle. In Mexico, the story goes like this:
History Tidbit – Pork in the valley of Matlatzinco (valley of Toluca)
Pigs were first brought to the American continent in the Dominican Republic, by explorer Christopher Columbus in 1493, and later on, conqueror Hernán Cortés successfully farmed them while living in Cuba from 1511 to 1518. Cortés knew the importance of pigs as a reliable food supply for his army, introducing them to mainland Yucatan peninsula in 1518, and later establishing a pig farm in the Mexican state of Veracruz; as his army advanced towards Tenochtitlan (modern-day Mexico City), rations of dried pork and bacon insured reliable nourishment for his soldiers.
After the conquest of the Mexica (Aztec) Empire was completed in 1521, Cortés hosted the first-ever pork party in Mexican soil for his captains, in his newly established home in Coyoacan, and by 1525, in the nearby valley of Matlatzinco, he had established farming of all sorts of animals brought from Europe. Pigs were particularly successful, because of their high degree of adaptability; the defeated indigenous groups paid imposed tribute in the form of maize, which was unknown to the conquerors. Amongst other things, they used the maize to feed the pigs, and the new diet translated into a different flavour for the meat; this, along with local climate conditions, gave origin to true Mexican pig breeds, such as Birich, the “cerdo pelón mexicano” – Mexican hairless pig.
As I mentioned in a previous post, as part of his post-conquest bounty, Hernán Cortés was named Governor of the new colonies, and received the title of “Marqués del valle de Oaxaca” – Marquis of the Valley of Oaxaca in 1529. The title came with control of vast territories that comprised regions even outside the Valley of Oaxaca; around his dwellings in Coyoacan, other land included Mixcoac, San Agustín de las Cuevas, San Ángel, Churubusco, and Tacubaya (all these now part of modern Mexico City). His states in Cuernavaca, head of the Marquessate, and now capital of the State of Morelos, served as his headquarters later in life. He also secured other areas in the modern-day state of Oaxaca, as well as Veracruz (Jalapa and seven haciendas), and Michoacán. In Estado de México, the Marquessate comprised the Corregimiento de Toluca with 12 villages and a hacienda, and the Corregimiento of Charo Matlazinco; now with full control of this region (currently known as valley of Toluca), Cortés tried to consolidate the pig farming and pork product industry in the colonies.
Over the remaining of the Spanish colonial times, and after Mexico became independent in 1821, as well as continuing into the middle of the 20th century, Toluca experienced a fast growth, becoming the state capital in 1830, and enjoying particular economic importance as a producer of cured meats, most famously their chorizo sausage. Although in recent decades the city has become highly industrialized, this tradition has not been curtailed, with a few artisan shops in Toluca and others in nearby towns, such as Lerma, still carrying on the production of quality chorizos, in the valley of Toluca.
I have shared my recipe for a homemade red chorizo before, with seasonings more in line with Northern Mexico’s cuisine. To acknowledge the chorizo tradition of the valley of Toluca (in Central Mexico), this time I am sharing a recipe for chorizo verde (green chorizo), unique to the region. It was created in relatively recent times, in the 1960s, in some of the small towns in the valley of Toluca, probably due to a rise in prices of pimentón (Spanish paprika) and dry chiles, essential to provide the bright red shades characteristic of traditional chorizo rojo (red chorizo). Unlike its red counterpart, green chorizo is made with fresh vegetables and herbs, most of them of course being green, which give the sausage its bright tone, without additions of artificial colour.
Toluca Style Green Chorizo – Chorizo verde toluqueño
1 lb (454g) ground pork
2 cups green leaves, such as dark lettuce, spinach, Swiss chard, etc.; washed
8 twigs cilantro; washed
1 poblano pepper; washed
2 serrano peppers, or to taste; washed
2 cloves garlic; peeled
½ white onion; peeled
1 bay leaf; crushed
½ tsp dry Mexican oregano, or marjoram; crushed
½ tsp ground cumin
½ tsp ground black pepper
1 ½ tsp salt, or to taste
¼ cup pumpkin seed; peeled
¼ cup almonds; peeled and slivered
¼ cup raisins
2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
¼ cup red wine, or red wine vinegar
Mix apple cider vinegar and red wine (vinegar) in a bowl, then add raisins (photo below, left); I used golden raisins for a light tone, but regular are fine, as well. Allow to soak for at least ten minutes, then add measured herbs and spices (bay leaf, Mexican oregano, cumin, black pepper, and salt). Mix thoroughly, and reserve (photo below, right):
I chose dark green outer leaves from a Romaine lettuce for this batch; I favoured it over spinach and Swiss chard for its neutral flavour. The cilantro stems may be included, as long as the roots are trimmed. I used 2 serranos and one poblano pepper, but the ratios or amounts may be adjusted, for spicier or milder results:
Bring a large pot of water to boil over high heat; drop greens (lettuce and cilantro) and blanch for a few seconds, no more than one minute (photo below, left); remove from water and reserve. Repeat with the onion, garlic, and peppers (photo below, right):
Slice onion into chunks, and remove stems and seeds from peppers, also slicing coarsely. In the photo below, all the blanched ingredients after prepping:
In a dry skillet, roast pumpkin seed, just until it turns shinny (photo below, left); remove promptly and reserve. Repeat with the almonds (photo below, right):
Place reserved vinegar mix in a blender jar, then the pumpkin seed and almonds (photo below, left). Pulse several times, stopping to push ingredients down with a spatula as needed (photo below, right):
Continue until a grainy, but uniform, paste is obtained. Add reserved blanched greens and aromatics (photo below, left). Process, again stopping to scrape with a spatula as needed, until a bright green paste is obtained (photo below, right):
Transfer to a non-reactive and wide container, such as a glass baking dish; reserve.
For the meat, I purchased good quality ground pork (photo below, left); it was marked as “lean”, and it probably needed a little lard added, but this way it was healthier. If an old-fashioned butcher shop is available, an alternative is to buy lean pork loin and lard at an 80-20 ratio by weight (meaning, for one pound of loin, one quarter pound of lard), then ask the butcher to grind them together. Place the ground meat in the dish with the reserved green paste, and mix (photo below, right):
Continue mixing until there is no trace of pink (photo below, left). Cover with cheese cloth or a clean kitchen towel (photo below, right):
Allow to rest in the fridge overnight; at this point it may be cased, and kept for a few more days in the fridge, then grilled as a sausage, or cooked without casing in a skillet:
As mentioned, the ground pork I used was lean, so I added about one teaspoon of vegetable oil to the skillet, for frying; chorizo with lard or a fattier meat will fry on its own. It is hard to tell when the meat is fully cooked, but make sure that it is by cooking and turning for several minutes.
Blanching all the fresh ingredients and adding a good amount of vinegar provides good measures to preserve this green chorizo, but since it contains fresh vegetables and herbs, it is recommended to consume within a week, or freeze.
It may be served on its own with fresh tomatoes, salsa and a pile of tortillas, mixed in with some scrambled eggs for a yummy breakfast, or used as a filling for quesadillas, or as shown below, in a mighty torta de chorizo, in the classic fashion at small restaurants and stands in downtown Toluca:
FUN FACT: A group of pigs may receive different names, depending on the age of the animals and the nature of the set. A group of wild pigs is called a sounder; when they are young, groups of piglets might be called drifts, droves, or litters, while older ones are grouped in a team, or a passel. It should not come as a surprise that these curvaceous creatures would be called a “team”, since their high intelligence often allows farmers to easily train them to be rounded-up and respond to commands.
FUN FACT: Spanish armies were known to keep pigs in their camps since Medieval times, and consumption of pork meat readily differentiated Christians from Muslims during the Crusades. For his conquest expedition to Honduras in 1524, as narrated by Bernal DÍaz del Castillo, Hernán Cortés had in tow “una gran manada de puercos que venía comiendo por el camino” – “a great team of pigs happily eating away along the trail.”
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I am sharing my post at Thursday Favourite Things #501, with Bev @ Eclectic Red Barn, Pam @ An Artful Mom, Katherine @ Katherine’s Corner, Amber @ Follow the Yellow Brick Home, Theresa @ Shoestring Elegance and Linda @ Crafts a la Mode. Special thanks to Bev, for featuring my Hidalgo Style Patties at this party.