Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Trader Joe's Soy Chorizo

This is a Very Special Review. Because TJ's soy chorizo is a Very Special Product.

If you Google it, you will find people speaking almost reverentially about it. You will also discover that TJ's seriously ticked off a lot of its loyal customers over the last year or so. First, the product disappeared for several months--something about changing to a new supplier. Then, when they brought it back, it had "dry milk powder (for freshness)" listed as one of its ingredients, rendering it no longer vegan-friendly.

The howls of protest could be heard across the land. When the vegans ain't happy, ain't NOBODY happy!

The soy chorizo quickly disappeared again. But now it's back--with no dairy ingredients. (Notice the vegan "V" prominently displayed on the label.)

I didn't know about this back-and forthing until very recently. When my local TJ's opened in September, I went online to get some suggestions about what items to try first. I was particularly interested in meat substitutes, since I cook weekly for a vegetarian. I rapidly discovered the love for soy chorizo. The most prominent blog about TJ's products is "What's Good at Trader Joe's." When they added a new blogger to the team, his very first product review was of--you guessed it--soy chorizo. (See here.) I'm pretty sure that was one of the things I read last year that got me interested in trying it. So I had it on my first TJ's shopping list, only to learn when I got to the store that it wasn't available.

The "WGATJ" folks in April published a post about the second, non-vegan version of the product, which is where I learned about the recent history above. But, as mentioned, that stuff didn't stay on the shelves for long. Surprisingly, WGATJ has not yet reviewed the newest, re-veganified version--which is the only one I've tried.

I come to TJ's Soy Chorizo as a chorizo virgin. This is both a handicap, as I don't have a mental database of real chorizo against which to compare it, and, arguably, an advantage, as I can evaluate it for what it is, instead of for what it's not.

The bottom line is this: I like it a lot. It's not my absolute favorite fake-meat product. (That honor is reserved for a very recent, very local product called "El Zapatista," from an Asheville company called "No Evil Foods." Fabulous stuff.) But it might be my second-favorite such product.

Because of how it's packaged and presented, it's natural to assume that TJ's soy chorizo is a tubular "meat." But if you look closely at the label, it tells you to remove the casing, which is plastic. When you do, you quickly discover that the chorizo does not hold together:

That turd-looking thing in the upper right is how it looks when you plop it down in the pan. The rest is what it looks like soon after you try manipulating it with a spatula.

There's nothing especially wrong with that--but it's likely not what most people are expecting when they buy and open this product. I was cooking it for Nina, and expected to fry up nice thick slices of it to serve on a bed of rice. But "slicing" immediately and inadvertently became "crumbling." I ended up serving it basically sprinkled on the rice. Not what I had in mind, but it was good anyway.

One of my go-to foods for myself is tostadas--nothing more complicated than refried beans from a can slathered on a tortilla with shredded cheese, and a little hot sauce of some sort, heated in microwave or toaster oven. If I happen to have shredded lettuce on hand, naturally that goes on top. Same with either ground beef or fake ground beef.

Given that, Nina suggested that I try the soy chorizo in the role of the ground beef (real or fake). I thought this was an excellent idea. So the next time she was over for dinner, I fried the chorizo in a little oil, to brown it, then sprinkled it over the beans on tortillas, like so:

Into the oven they went, with cheese added the last few minutes, plus lettuce and some sun-dried tomato shreds after they came out. And voila:

I thought these things were mucho delicioso. I've made them for myself a few more times since this first experiment (which was about two weeks ago as I'm writing this), and they've been marvelous every time. This combination is now one of my very favorite meals to make for myself, and it's incredibly easy.

I'm sure there are a thousand other ways to use TJ's soy chorizo, but it's going to be hard to convince me that I'll ever like any of them better than this.

Will I buy it again? 

Absofreakinlutely. Top Ten item, and one that I plan to keep on hand as a staple all the time--as long as TJ's doesn't make another boneheaded move that renders it unavailable again. (Keep it in the freezer if you're not sure when you'll use it.)

Nina's View

There's little arguing that the Soy Chorizo is tasty, tasty stuff.

Not long after Bob served it up to me, I served it up to him. I made a vegetarian version of dirty rice & beans, using the soy chorizo and some red bell pepper. It was, as he pronounced it, "yummy."

I cooked up the remainder of it for breakfast a couple of days later with sautéed onion and a fried egg, which I promise you was also yummy. So far, browning it in oil seems like a good idea. At some point, I'll see whether it works straight up in a chili sauce.

In any case, on my visits to TJ's henceforth this will always find its way into my shopping cart.

Update, January 1, 2016 

Right now, as I write this, there are at least 3 packs of soy chorizo in my freezer. I'm simply never without it. It's not only one of my favorite foods, but one of my most frequently used ones.

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