What is Cecina? Well, That Depends Where You Are.
At El Norteño we are very proud of our Cecina Beef Jerky, but we learned quickly that many people do not know what Cecina is. So we're here to help.
Cecina is a style of meat that is typically cut very thin, cured with salt, and then air dried. It is most commonly eaten in Spain & Mexico, but depending where you are the final product is two worlds apart. That's because Cecina isn't just one thing, it can be many. But for the sake of this article we are going to focus on two different variations. Dry Cecina & Wet Cecina.
The Magic of Cecina: Salt
The word "Cecina" is derived from the Latin word siccus, which means dry. For that reason, Cecina is a broad term to resemble beef that has been dried by means of sun, air or smoke. There is one constant though -- Salt.
What you'll learn in this write up is that in Mexico and Spain, salt is the magic element to give Cecina it's texture, and most importantly, it's taste. With that said, both countries have very different approaches to making their own style of Cecina and that's what we'll focus on in this writing.
Spanish Cecina (Dry Version)
Spanish Cecina is typically served as a tapa
The dry version of Cecina is what is typically eaten in Spain. The city of Leon, which sits in the Northwest region of the country is known for this style of Cecina. It is very similar to Spanish Ham, also known as Jamón Serrano, but in Northwest Spain cows were more prevalent, so instead of using pork, they used beef. The beef is usually seasoned with black pepper, oregano, thyme and other herbs.
Curing the Meat
After seasoning, the meat is placed into a container which contains a bed of salt. You then pour more salt into the container until all the meat is completely smothered. You then place the container with the fully smothered beef into a refrigerator for around 5 days.
After the preservation of the Cecina is done, the meat needs to continue air drying. In large facilities its common to hang the Cecina in a net for months at a time. In these facilities the air temperature and humidity can be controlled to create a perfect final product.
Mexican Cecina (Wet Version)
Mexican Cecina is usually eaten with a tortilla and garnished with your favorite fixings.
In Mexico, dry Cecina is also available, but a more popular option is their wet version, which resembles a very thin steak. In the town of Yecapixtla, Morelos, this style of Cecina is king. This small town in central Mexico is so well known for their Cecina that a statue of a Cecinero stands proudly in the town's center.
NOTE: A Cecinero is a butcher who works exclusively making Cecina.
Preparing & Drying the meat
The butchers start preparation by thinly slicing a raw chunk of beef, cutting back and forth being careful to always keep the meat as thin as possible and together. Once fully cut, the meat is layed out onto wooden boards where both sides are salted and in some cases, buttered. Each side of the meat usually spends about 30 minutes under the sun or until the meat begins to brown. Once finished the meat is rolled back into one large hunk and it is ready to cook.
Cooking the meat
A lot of the restaurants in Yecapixtla will showcase their prepared Cecina at the door. At that time patrons will come and place their order. The Cecina is then cooked on a grill just like a carne asada. Cecina tacos are one of the more popular ways to eat Cecina, but it is often eaten in a dish with Mexican cheeses, grilled onions, beans and rice.
Mexican Dry Cecina
The Dry version is also a common way to eat Cecina in Mexico. However, instead of curing a large chunk of beef, it's often sliced first, salted and hung on wires for the sun to dry it out.
Why are they so different?
That's a good question. Cecina was brought to Mexico by Spanish Explorers, but today their techniques are very different. One thought is that weather played a big role in that change. Northern Spain does have warm summers, but it also has cooler months that would be beneficial for drying and preservation practices. Mexico on the other is much warmer and typically much more humid. The humidity alone would not be beneficial to curing meat.
How do you say "Cecina"?
Due to the different dialects of Spanish in Spain & Mexico, the pronunciation of Cecina differs. In Spain Cecina sounds like "Thay-Theen-A" where the "Th" sounds like the word "Thin." However, In Mexico Cecina sounds like "Say-See-Nuh" and is a bit easier for English speakers to say.
Our Cecina Beef Jerky
El Norteño Cecina Beef Jerky is much more representative of Mexican Cecina. First the beef is cut into thin slices and carefully seasoned with salt and pepper. Our meat is then marinated with our special marinade recipe. However, where Mexican Cecina is usually partially dried, our Cecina goes through a full dry cycle that makes our product more similar to beef jerky.