Cecina is a salted and dried meat, prominently served in Spanish cuisine. You may experience its unique, oak smoke flavor in authentic dishes, and wish to try your hand at cooking it at home.
Knowing how to cook cecina on stove can be the deciding factor in a successful dish. While it only takes up to two minutes on either side, true precision actually lies in more than simply time.
Is Cecina Cooked?
Typically, when you think of a food item as cooked, it has reached a certain internal temperature where bacteria and parasites are completely killed.
At this point, the meat is safe to consume with little risk of food poisoning or illness.
Cecina is cooked, but in a very different way than most meats:
- Slicing the meat smoothly into paper-thin sections.
- Rubbing salt and sometimes spices into the meat, depending on the region. This salt will help preserve it, slow down spoilage, and concentrate a large amount of flavor.
- Washing the meat, to take off any excess salt from the outside.
- Air drying or sun drying the meat, for a few months.
- Smoking the meat in a closed room, to cure the meat and add smokey and woody flavors. This may take many weeks.
- Seasoning and drying the meat again, for months.
- Removing the brown crust from all the thin meat slices to reveal the beautiful, dark reddish-purple coloring.
This whole process takes more than half a year. It slows down and halts bacteria growth over the long process of preserving the meat properly.
Creators maintain consistent temperatures in a certain range, typically between 35F and 40F during the curing and smoking. Although this is a very low temperature, it allows for the cure to penetrate the meat fully, which is how it is ‘cooked’.
Overall, it is not conventionally cooked, but it is not raw.
Do You Need to Cook Cecina?
Salting, drying, and smoking meat is a special method of preparing and preserving meat. It draws out all the moisture from the meat, so bacteria cannot enter it.
Conversely, when you cook meat in a conventional manner, such as in the oven or on the stovetop, you kill any bacteria that has entered the meat from the butcher to the pan.
Since bacteria never reaches the cecina, you can eat it safely without cooking it additionally.
However, there is a risk that it has parasites within it. In particular, the great concerns are listeriosis and toxoplasmosis. Medical experts recommend that pregnant women, elderly, or immunocompromised people avoid eating cold cured meats, including cecina.
However, you can learn how to cook cecina on stove and you will still be able to enjoy its delicious flavor and texture.
Ultimately, the choice is yours whether to consume it cold or cook it further. Many people enjoy eating cecina as it comes, as “cecina, prosciutto, bresaola, and beef jerky are all examples of the magic that salt, air, and time can perform on meat.”
They may pair it with various cheeses, fruits, and breads for appetizers. However, many people also fry cecina briefly in order to enhance the flavors and add it to cooked Spanish and Latin American dishes.
What Is the Best Way to Cook Cecina?
If you are making authentic Spanish, Mexican, or South American food, you may wish to add cooked cecina.
Popular dishes with this delicious addition include enchiladas, quesadillas, and tacos. Yet, you may not know how to cook cecina on the stove or for how long.
Luckily, you just need a few secrets and you’ll be flying around the kitchen like a talented and skilled Abuela in no time.
Since cecina is already cured, you do not have to worry about killing bacteria. You simply want to heat it up till it is mouth-wateringly flavorful, especially if there is added warmth with spices or chiles.
You can place your skillet over medium-high heat, as not to burn the meat but to heat them up quickly and evenly on each side.
How Long Does It Take to Cook Cecina?
Cecina is very simple and fast to heat up or cook! Bill Esparza, an expert on Latin American cuisine, recommends to “cook cecina until cooked with medium heat, 1 to 2 minutes per side.
The goal is to brown the cutlets and just cook them through while being careful not to overcook; these thin-sliced cured meats cook up quickly.” Likewise, if you prefer to use a grill, it will take an equal amount of time on either side.
What Is Cecina?
Cecina originated in Castile and León, Spain. In this region, people hunted wild game and bred cattle, salted the fresh meat, and then dried and smoked it for months.
The result of their dedication and patience? A delicious, thinly sliced preserved meat with a deep mahogany inside and brown rind.
What Does Cecina Taste Like?
Despite the fact that cecina is a salted and cured meat, it is actually only slightly salty in taste and more tender than you may expect.
The first notes that hit your palette are a rich meat flavor (depending on the particular cut of meat), an earthiness, and a smokey wood aspect. Of course, today, there are some differences in its tastes and textures depending on where your cecina comes from.
It is slightly different in Central America and South America than it is in Spain. In these countries; they tend to add more warmth with chilies and spices (i.e., for carne asada), and sun-dry it in the tropical sun.
What Cut of Meat Is Cecina?
Traditionally, Cecina de León is dried beef. However, in other parts of Spain and Latin America, it is also dried horse, goat, sheep, rabbit, deer, pig, and duck.
Depending on the cut of meat, the flavor of the cecina may be different but the saltiness and coloring remain similar.
How Do You Serve Cecina?
There are many excellent ways to serve Cecina, as an appetizer, snack, or ingredient in a meal. A few of the most popular ways to use this cured delicacy are:
- Served in chilled slices on a beautifully arranged charcuterie board with complementary sauces
- Cold slices paired with olive oil and sharp cheese
- Grilled slices with a tortilla for a taco, fajita, enchilada, or quesadilla with great toppings and salsas – be sure to also try corn tortillas
- Fried slices with grilled vegetables and fresh toppings
- Hot or cold cecina sandwiches
How Do You Store Cecina?
If you do not use all your cecina at once, you may wonder how to store it properly. Most people believe that you can store cured meats in a cool, dry place like a cupboard.
However, this is not necessarily true. You should store cecina, and other meats like prosciutto and salami, in a chilled place. It is important to keep them below 45F, in a relatively dark place.
Typically, this is best replicated in a standard refrigerator as long as you cover your cecina with a cloth.
After you open a package of cecina, you can store it for up to 10 months in this kind of environment. That said, after a few months, you may notice the intensity of the spices starts to fade.
Can You Cook Cecina from Scratch at Home?
If you are feeling particularly ambitious, you may desire to prepare and cook cecina from scratch. While it is certainly possible to recreate cecina, it may not taste exactly like the original product.
However, an authentic home-cooked version is better than nothing if you cannot get your hands on this delectable treat.
The first way to recreate cecina from scratch is to take pork or beef, sliced incredibly thinly. It is important to pound them with a meat mallet until they are less than ⅛ inch thick. Next, you can brush them with a marinade made up of warm Mexican-inspired or Spanish-inspired spices. On medium-high heat in a frying pan or on a grill, cook the ‘cecina’ for two minutes on each side. As this recreation does not involve curing or smoking, it must be completely cooked in order to consume safely.
The second, and more authentic way to create cecina comes from Cappy Lawton, a successful author and restaurateur. He recommends starting with a beef rump, brisket, or flank. The hardest part of the endeavor is to cut your beef in even, smooth, and incredibly thin slices. He suggests slicing with the grain, stopping just before reaching the end, and leaving the slices hinged together like a ‘folding door’.
Then, sprinkle it generously with salt. Refold, set over a racked plate to drain, and keep in a refrigerator for 8-12 hours. Next, you’ll need to hang the meat upside down and place it in the hot sun for 2-4 hours. After this, some lime juice for acidity and 2-3 days in a shady spot or dark room. Following this recipe, you should already know how to cook cecina on the stovetop! Cook quickly, two minutes on each side, just like regularly cured cecina!