Buenos Aires. Lunchtime. The sun is high above the jacaranda trees and the strains of tango emanating from an old record store are drowned out by the grumbling of your stomach. You’re confronted with a delightful problem: What to eat?
A sandwich de miga from the local panadería? Or maybe a few empanadas tucumanas – one beef, one cheese and basil, one sweet corn – from the family-owned peña down the street? You vacillate, weighing your options, until a familiar smell wafts in on the breeze. The smell of charcoal, of grilling pork. That’s it – choripán.
A simple name for a simple food. Chori = chorizo, pan = bread. Choripán. Sausage sandwich. The chorizo grilled to crispy perfection, toasted baguette slathered in – what else? – chimichurri. No frills here.
It's a democratic food. Across the city porteños of all classes flock to their favorite street vendor, the lines sometimes stretching for blocks. In the narrow streets of the Microcentro, day traders and PR execs brush shoulders with cab drivers and construction workers. Outside the bustling Retiro bus terminal, Swedish backpackers share counter space with recent migrants from Bolivia, Paraguay, and West Africa – all briefly united in porcine bliss.
And you? In a quiet corner of the Costanera Sur, far from the madness of the city center, the sun shines down on the swaying reeds of the Ecological Preserve. The soft calls of birds mingle with the cumbia from a sunbather’s stereo, the crackle of fat on coals from a dozen brightly painted food carts. You settle down on the crumbling steps of the old promenade, thank the universe you’re in Buenos Aires, and take a bite. And all is right with the world.
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Apart from being a local lunchtime staple, choripán is typically enjoyed as an appetizer at asados, passed around to guests while the main course – usually copious amounts of beef – cooks low and slow. As they say in Argentina, “When hungry guests get out of line, keep them happy with chori and wine.” Okay, they don’t say that, but they should!
Really, it doesn’t get much simpler than choripán. The most important step is the first one: choosing your sausage. Most chorizo you’re likely to find at your butcher or supermarket is the cured, smoked, Spanish version, or chorizo español. This stuff is delicious, and easy to prepare – since it’s already cooked, you just need to heat it through. But a traditional Argentine choripán it does not make. For that, you need chorizo fresco, or fresh chorizo, which is similar in appearance to Italian sausage. Any supermarket carrying Latin American ingredients should have it – or, ask your butcher to order it specially.
So you’ve selected your chori – now you need the pan. Hotdog buns WILL NOT DO! The choripán, while a democratic sandwich, does not lack a certain refinement. (This is an Argentine snack we’re talking about, after all.) If you’re lucky enough to live near a Latin American bakery, you can be real authentic and get marraqueta or pan francés. (For our compañeros in Queens, try Panadería Rio de la Plata on Corona Avenue. While you’re there, pop across the street to the butcher shop at El Gauchito for your chorizo!) Baguette or even sandwich rolls will do in a pinch. Just keep in mind, the bread will have to fit a chorizo sliced in half. That’s right, we’re butterflying this thing. More on that in a minute.
Okay! You’ve got enough chorizo for each guest to have at least two sandwiches and you’ve chosen a bread. Get that grill pre-heated over medium-high heat (about 375 F). Now, you’re confronted with a choice. Do you throw the sausage straight onto the grill and cook those suckers till the casings pop? Well, you could. Or, you could bring them to a gentle simmer in a pot of water on the stove while the grill pre-heats (more on that here). This cooks the chorizo through, and can be done ahead of time. Take your pre-cooked sausage, carefully slice them down the middle being sure to leave the casing intact on one side (this is the butterflying! Your chorizo is now a beautiful mariposa) and lay them carefully lengthwise across the grates of the grill, cut side up. Flip once so both sides get nice and seared, then remove from the heat.
Pretty easy, right? But we’re not done yet. Slice the bread lengthwise, toast for a minute on the grill until just lightly browned and warm, and slather liberally with GIMME CHIMMI.
Simple. Economical. Delicious. If this doesn’t keep your dinner guests happy, you need new dinner guests. Us, for instance! Invite us! We’ll bring the chimmi!