I recently overheard an elderly couple in El Burrito Mercado standing in front of the counter in the carniceria (meat shop), both very entertained and with big smiles as they observed the fast, skilled carnicero (butcher) slicing cecina. They were curious what it was, so I approached them and gave them a brief explanation, they excitedly bought some. This is not an unusual scenario at our place, and I embrace each of those opportunities to share about our foods with adventurous people like this. Maybe you too are curious to try something new, not to ‘out there’, and easy, so I’ll elaborate a bit with you on what I shared with them regarding cecina.
Cecina is thinly sliced, salted and partially dried sheets or strips of beef or pork. The technique of making it requires an extremely sharp knife, considerable skill, and patience. A large piece of boneless beef is lightly folded into a continuous roll of thin slices by deft cutting, back and forth, within the mass of muscle. Not every carniceria has cecina, especially this far north it’s quite challenging for Mexican meat shops to have experienced carniceros, so we feel pretty lucky that we have a couple of the best carniceros (specialty butchers)and are always stocked!
In Mexico, Spain, and Latin America, after cecina is sliced, it is salted and dried by means of air, sun or smoke, or stored, depending on the region. And here in the USA, due to health regulations, the beef is stored in controlled refrigerated temperatures.
Many of our customers are unfamilar with a lot of the specialties we offer in our carniceria. And because cecina requires special skills, it’s probably one the most unique meats a-typical to American butcher shops. In Mexico, it’s the meat you’ll sometimes see in the carnicerias hanging to dry or laying out to dry in the sun, and it’s eaten like beef jerky, or used in cooking. When it’s cooked, like when purchased from our carniceria, it’s most typically either grilled or pan cooked.
I personally love that it cooks quickly, no seasoning needed, and it can be enjoyed in a variety of Mexican favorites such as tacos, tortas, and commonly served with chilaquiles for breakfast. In Mexico there is a breakfast dish known as Aporreadillo (aka machaca in most areas), it’s the shredded cooked cecina scrambled with eggs, onion, and peppers. These options are served for breakfast at El Burrito Mercado’s El Cafe Restaurant!
(Note: Carne asada is a general term used for ‘grilled meats’, however most commonly people inadvertently reference only beef (like ribeye) as carne asada. However, cecina, pork, or even chicken can all be lumped into the general term ‘carne asada’, the most accurate way is to reference a meat as “carne para asar”, so for example, cecina is a carne para asar, “a meat to be grilled”. Cecina is very commonly used for carne asadas, however to eat it in a taco it needs to be chopped after cooking, it’s texture makes it tough to bite from a taco in a whole piece.)
Next time you are in our mercado and if you are unfamiliar with cecina definitely give it a try, it’s the #1 thing I recommend to anyone that is unfamiliar with our meats and want to try something different but easy to cook. It’s simple, basic, and so enjoyable! If you’re lucky, like the elderly couple I met, you’ll catch a carnicero at work slicing cecina.