Throughout the whole of Spain, its not surprising to notice that dry cured meats in their various forms are ever- present in the culinary scene. Of course jamón and chorizo are found everywhere, but there is another big time player that you may come across in various parts of the country, and that is cecina. I actually discovered this dish while preparing for my Erasmus year in León and was determined to give it a try when I arrived.
Castilla de León is the place of origin, specifically León, and is most famous there, as well as in neighbouring provinces of Palencia and Zamora. Two types has a protected geographic indication status, in León and Vegacervera respectively and the taste is distinct. The word cecina doesn’t exclusively refer to beef, but also horse, goat, lamb and rabbit, though these varieties are not as easy to find compared to the beef version, which is available around the whole country in restaurants and most supermarkets.
cecina is usually served cold as a tapa, an appetiser, or first course, but many people may order it as a ración to share alongside other dishes round the table. Just like jamón ibérico, or serrano, it’s normal to have it served with bread and olive oil, with the only difference being that the colour of the meat is usually darker. Some people who have tried it, have claimed the taste and texture is like beef jerky, but I disagree with that. It’s texture is a fraction tougher than jamón, but less than jerky, and the taste is mixture of dry cure and a mild beefy taste. It’s very difficult to describe, but I can say, if you like like Jamón serrano, you are probably going to like this too.
There are not many recipes that actively use cecina as a key ingredient, but many other local dishes combine with it to make an ultimate Leonés experience, especially queso de valdeón and pimientos de Bierzo. The standout recipe I have seen in restaurants when I visited león however, were croquetas de cecina, but I’m in two minds on whether they are better than the standard jamón version. The croquetería, Rebote serves them as one of the 7 varieties that comes free with a beer, so if you’re in Barrio Humedo, see what you think for yourself.
The cost of Cecina, doesn’t vary nearly as much as jamón does, and there is no official grading system like ibéricos. The cost usually is based on how long the meat is cured (which is a minimum of 7 months), and the quality of the cut. The pack I usually buy at the supermarket, costs around 2.50€ for a 100g pack, whereas in restaurants, you can find it for over 10€ for a Ración. Many places may include it in the set menu, of which it would be real value for money. All I can say, is that it is worth every cent.
So there you have it, cecina. Rich in history, rich and flavourful in taste, and a nice change to Jamón once in a while. This is testament that Spain love dry-curing almost everything and they all deserve the same treatment. Whether it’s an appetiser, a tapa or part of a banquet you have decided to order at once, take your time, and enjoy the flavour for what it is. You’ll understand what I mean when you do.