You’re doing yourself a serious disservice if you’re a meat-lover and you haven’t tried the dried beef tradition of cecina.
Cecina has all the irresistible flavors of the most celebrated cured meat creations from around the world with a fascinating history and cross-cultural reach that makes it just as appealing to learn about as it is to munch on.
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What Is Cecina?
Cecina is a Spanish cured meat that is a type of preserved meat that has its roots in the rustic folk cooking techniques of post-classical Spain, presumably dating back before the 4th century B.C.E.
More specifically, it’s an export of the provinces of León (from whence its most well-known iteration, cecina de León, takes its name) and Palencia in the country’s mountainous northwest corner.
These high-altitude regions are warm, dry, and teeming with wild game-an ideal environment to master the art of curing meats.
Cecina is customarily prepared by taking many a thin slice of beef, salting it heavily, and allowing it to dry in the open air, with or without first being smoked.
Where Does the Name “Cecina” Come From?
How cecina got its name remains a bit of a mystery. The food is of Spanish origin, but the word cecina is not Spanish.
Some food scholars subscribe to the theory that “cecina” is a play on the Latin word “sicco,” which means “dry.” Others think it’s more likely an ancient ancestor of the modern Spanish “cerezo,” meaning “cherry,” a reference to its signature deep red color.
It’s even possible that the word has an etymological link to Cecina, Tuscany, a small settlement town founded and named after Albinus Caecina, who served as consul during the height of the Western Roman empire.
None of that really matters, though. The only thing that matters is that somewhere along the line, some genius gave us the gift of cecina and later shared that gift with the rest of the world.
How Is Cecina Made?
As far as its fundamental ingredients go, cecina isn’t all that different from other preserved meat products like bresaola or salami. The thing that sets it apart as a traditional dish is the way-or ways-it’s cured.
It can be air-dried, sun-dried, or smoked, but it’s far more common for the maker to employ more than one of these methods in combination.
Here is a more detailed breakdown of cecina’s journey from pasture to plate:
First, the butcher takes whatever meat they have selected and cuts it into paper-thin slices to give it a delicate, uniform consistency.
This initial step is one of the most important, as it ensures that the finished product will have the desired taste and textural characteristics.
Next, the sliced meat is covered in a thick salt rind (sometimes sea salt) and left to sit for several days. Salting serves two purposes: it imparts flavor and cures the meat by drawing out moisture and eliminating harmful bacteria. Once most of the salt has been absorbed, the meat is ready for washing and drying.
Following salado, which constitutes the first curing stage, the meat is washed thoroughly to remove the excess salt clinging to the surface.
This step is cursory but crucial-as you know, oversalted meat can be quite unpalatable.
Asentamiento literally translates to “settling.” The freshly salted meat is laid out or hung up to dry during this stage.
Sometimes, the drying takes place in small smokehouse-like larders; other times, it may be arranged out in the sun, which tends to introduce a slight pungency. Air-drying is a slow, painstaking procedure-it can take weeks or even months to do properly.
Finally, the meat is smoked to cap off the curing process and lend it further depth. By the time the meat finishes smoking, it will have developed a tough, brownish crust.
This crust is removed to reveal the beautifully marbled, mahogany-colored meat beneath, which is then ready to sell or savor.
What Does Cecina Taste Like?
Most varieties of cecina are described as having an emphatic beefy flavor, with a smoky undercurrent and prominent notes of salt, earthiness, and aged wood. In other words, it’s flippin’ delicious. It’s a common charcuterie meat.
Even though it’s frequently subjected to multiple curing methods, cecina is astonishingly tender and succulent.
It’s also not as salty as you might expect, though we caution against using additional salt, as doing so can overpower the more subtle flavors on display.
Spanish Cecina vs. Mexican Cecina
In addition to being a staple in its native Spain, cecina is also immensely popular as a snack food and culinary ingredient in Mexico and other parts of Central & South America, where it took hold as a staple following the Spanish conquests of the early 16th century.
For the most part, Mexican cecina is nearly identical to traditional Spanish cecina. The biggest difference is that the Mexican version leans into the spice, often being rubbed with or marinated in a potent mixture of chiles before its sun-dried and subsequently smoked.
Uses for Cecina
Like many other types of cured meats, cecina can be enjoyed on its own or used as a primary ingredient or flavoring in a wide variety of dishes.
When served as a snack, cecina is typically paired with bread, cheese, or fruit. In this way, it’s not unlike cured meats products like salami, bresaola, pastirma, lomo embuchado, prosciutto, or even some kinds of jerky.
As a culinary component, cecina is usually cooked briefly (a minute or two on the grill or skillet can make it even more tender and highlight its unique complexities) and added to dishes like tacos and quesadillas.
You can also eat it on its own with items like grilled onions and peppers, guacamole, pico de gallo, cilantro, or tortillas on the side.
Where to Buy Cecina
There is a chance that you can get packaged cecina at your local supermarket or specialty foods store if you live in an urban area with a thriving Latin American community.
You may even be able to find freshly made or imported cecina if you have a Spanish or Mexican mercado in your neighborhood.
Otherwise, your best bet is to go online. The internet has no shortage of shops that specialize in artisanal and “designer” meats.
For the most authentic experience possible, consider buying your cecina directly from Spain and having it priority-shipped to your location. It will undoubtedly be better that way.
FAQs about Cecina
Is cecina like jerky?
Cecina is similar to jerky as it is a thin cut of cured meat, typically beef, that is consumed in a completely dry state.
What is cecina meat?
Cecina is a type of dried meat that originates from Spain. It is made by air drying or smoking beef, and is known for its salty flavor. This type of meat is also produced in countries like Paraguay and Peru, where it is similar to ham but made from cured beef, horse meat, and occasionally young goat, rabbit, ox, or hare.
What does cecina taste like?
Cecina tastes like a type of salty, air-dried or smoked meat known as dried beef.
Can cecina be eaten raw?
Cecina can be eaten raw, but it depends on the type. The beef version is salted, marinated, and dried in the sun, similar to prosciutto, making it safe to consume uncooked. However, the pork “cecina enchilada” needs to be cooked before it can be eaten.
Is cecina meat good?
Cecina meat is indeed good. Research indicates that it is highly nutritious, with a substantial amount of protein and minimal fat. Additionally, it contains significant levels of essential minerals such as zinc and iron, which are crucial for maintaining a balanced diet.
Why is cecina meat salty?
Cecina meat is salty because it is preserved by salting and drying it using methods such as air, sun, or smoke.
What is cecina beef in English?
The English translation of “cecina” is corned beef, which refers to salted beef that is typically cooked and canned.
How do you eat beef cecina?
The recommended way to eat beef cecina is either on its own or combined with a small amount of olive oil. Additionally, it can be enjoyed as a side dish for salads, toast, or as a filling for canutillos with foie gras, tomato jam, and goat cheese.
How much protein is in cecina?
The amount of protein in cecina is 24g per package of El Norteno Mexican-style Beef Jerky Cecina Original.
Is Mexican cecina healthy?
Mexican cecina is a healthy option as it is packed with essential vitamins and minerals such as Vitamin A, Selenium, Vitamin B6, Zinc, Calcium, Phosphorus, Vitamin B12, Iron, and Vitamin C, providing approximately 9.8% of the recommended daily intake per calorie. However, it is important to note that cecina also contains higher levels of potentially unhealthy components like saturated fat, cholesterol, sodium, and sugars, amounting to approximately 0.05% per ounce.
What is the meaning of tacos de cecina?
The meaning of tacos de cecina is that in the north, it is referred to as “cecina” when beef is salted and dried in the sun. In the central region of the country, “cecina” is a thinly cooked strip of beef. Both variations are used to make delicious “tacos de cecina”.
What cut of meat is a cecina?
Cecina is a type of cured meat that is similar to ham. It is made from the hind legs of a cow, horse, or rabbit, and is salted, smoked, and air-dried. The most well-known variety of cecina is Cecina de León, which is produced in the provinces of León and Palencia in northwestern Spain. This particular type of cecina has PGI status.
What do you eat cecina with?
The cecina or farinata is typically eaten with an open focaccia bread called “schiacciata” in the Tuscan Riviera and Liguria region. It is commonly enjoyed as a snack or a quick dinner by having a slice of cecina placed inside the schiacciata.
Is cecina lean meat?
Cecina is lean meat and should always be served thinly sliced at room temperature, similar to Spanish jamón. It is commonly enjoyed as a tapa with a glass of wine or can be added to a fresh salad. Since it is leaner than ham, it is recommended to drizzle a small amount of extra virgin olive oil on the slices.
Is flank steak a cecina?
Flank steak is not the same as cecina. Cecina refers to a delicious, thinly sliced flank steak that has been dry aged. It is incredibly flavorful and pairs perfectly with our homemade salsas in tacos and quesadillas.
What is the difference between Asada and cecina?
The difference between Asada and cecina is that cecina is beef or pork that has been salted and pounded thin, then partially dried before being cooked on a comal. It has a pleasant salty taste and is slightly chewier compared to traditional carne asada. Additionally, cecina can also be dry-cured, similar to Italian bresaola.
Is bistec and cecina the same?
Bistec and cecina are not the same. Tacos de cecina are similar to bistec tacos, but the beef meat used in cecina tacos undergoes a unique drying and salting process. These tacos originate from Morelos, a state near Mexico City.