Since breaking his business partnership with McDonald’s five years ago, Chipotle founder Steve Ells has made it his mission to provide “Food With Integrity,” with his commitment of finding as many locally-sourced and sustainable ingredients as he can for the 1000+ Chipotle chain restaurants around the country. The Chipotle team has done a pretty good job publicizing this pledge, in attempts to thwart people from referring to their quick, assembly-line-prepared Mexican fare with the dreaded stigmatic label, “fast food.” In our socially conscious food world, their efforts have paid off, however, what they are lacking on their menu is a bit of variety; for years, they’ve only made tacos, salads, bowls, and their signature burritos with vegetables, steak, chicken, barbacoa, and pork carnitas. This may change with the introduction of chorizo, currently testing in certain markets for a limited time: one restaurant in Denver, and in most locations in New York City. Here’s how it rates:
The Claims: Chipotle’s featured chorizo is “naturally raised pork and chicken sausage, blended with herbs and spices, then grilled.” It can be served in any of their offerings in lieu of their regular meats.
The Verdict: B. Chorizo is an appropriate fit for Chipotle’s menu; more authentic Mexican eateries have it on theirs. It’s also fitting because their recipe contains pork and chicken, two meats that they already source locally whenever possible. However, the blend is more than merely the carnitas and chicken mixed together; Chipotle has created a distinct tasting sausage, which is ground up so that it can be easily spooned into bowls and tortillas. It differs from the breakfast chorizo that is served in the Chipotle location in Dulles airport, which is only made from pork.
This new chorizo -- which also complies with the “Food With Integrity” standards -- is flavorful and peppery but not overly spicy at all, presumably because the mainstream American palate is pretty bland. (If you want spicy, add some hot sauce.) However, the distinct taste of the chorizo is often lost in the mix of everything else they shove into a burrito. No matter what meat you put into a Chipotle burrito, it pretty much still tastes like a Chipotle burrito; they pack so much within a tortilla that it all fuses into one taste, with only hints of the particular meat you ordered. The hint of the chorizo’s spice is good, but it is not exactly a game changer when you’re also eating the regular rice, beans, salsas, and toppings in the same bite. The only time I could really get a real taste of the chorizo was when sampling it in the salad bowl, where you can pick it out with a fork. By itself, the chorizo is actually pretty light tasting -- despite grilled chorizo being inherently oily – possibly because there is more chicken than pork in the blend.
For now, Chipotle is only testing the chorizo in specific markets, but they may expand – and possibly make it the first new meat option on the nationwide menu in years -- if the feedback is good. In my opinion, it’s tasty when you can taste it, and worthy to be served outside of New York City. If Chipotle’s chorizo can make it there, it can make it anywhere — provided there are local farms nearby to get the chicken and pigs from.