Spanish Meat – Sausages to Sirloin
Spanish pork, cured pork, fresh meats and purchasing from your Spanish delicatessen and butchers.
Walk into any Spanish butchers or “carniceria” and you will be presented with an immaculate display of dozens of different meat cuts, indeed to the uninitiated it can be quite a bewildering experience! The Spanish meat counter, although impressive does miss out on some of the more popular cuts that you would expect to find in a good UK butchers. For example rolled pork shoulder is generally not available although if you ask for it the butcher will most certainly tie one up for you. A Spanish meat counter does compensate though by having certain treats that you cannot find in, for example the UK butchers, brains are a delicacy in Andalucia and are sold in four packs – just right for the stew! You can also find prepared rabbit similar to rural butchers that pride themselves on fine game.
The range of meat available in Spanish villages is dictated by the different eating culture, certainly in Andalucia you may see pork fillet being cut finely lengthways and opened out flat, this is one way to cook this particular cut and has been for generations. Pigs’ trotters are on sale daily ready to be boiled or cooked up for a tasty Andalucian lunch. Surprisingly, liver is not held in high regard and is often discarded or thrown to the odd lucky dog along with other offal products such as the lungs.
Meat is greatly appreciated in rural Spain and it is very rare to see any waste from a prepared dish. Locals shop daily and only tend to buy what they need for that evening or that day so hardly any meat ever gets frozen. Locals have plenty of time and enjoy shopping… Come the holiday season in “Semana Santa” (Easter) or throughout all of August the carniceria’s become even more popular with tourists and locals alike purchasing large amounts of fresh meat for fiesta’s, one common site is to see large boxes being filled to the brim with lamb chops – delicious barbequed and of course if you are feeding upwards of a dozen diners you need quite a few chops!
Below we have a summary of what types of meat can be purchased from a Spanish butcher along with a few facts and recipe ideas.
Loin ~ Magra
Famous for the recipe “magra con tomate” which is a pork dish with tomatoes and herbs. Magra is an economical cut of pork which has a medium fat content. Slightly tougher than prime cuts magra is good for stews, slow cooking and also as a roast.
Tenderloin ~ Lomo
Lomo tenderloin is a cut of pork containing little fat, lomo is also cured and can purchased both vacuum packed and presented tied on a flat board “tabla de lomo” seasoned and dressed with sprigs of rosemary. Fresh lomo is a tender cut and excellent cooked in wine or sherry. If you require a good loin with a little more fat ask for “cabeza de lomo” this come from the top of the loin and is mottled with fat running through the meat.
Fillet ~ Solomillo
Fillet, the finest cut of all and also the most expensive. Solomillo has a low far content and like lomo is mottled throughout the meat. Solomillo is saved for those special occasions and can be slow cooked again in wine or sherry.
Belly Pork ~ Pancetta
Pancetta is the most economical cut of pork and can be found in whole sheets in the display counter. Unlike pancetta found in supermarkets which can be quite thick your Spanish butcher will cut your pancetta to order in long thin strips. Pancetta is popular in stews or seasoned for the barbeque.
Trotters ~ Manitas
Pigs’ trotters are still very popular in Spain and can be regularly seen in most butchers. The feet are usually cut in half lengthways then boiled with mixed vegetables before eating.
Ribs ~ Costillas
Ribs, ideal for the barbeque and are usually marinated for a good few hours before being thrown on the grill. You can purchase a whole rack cut straight down the middle for a long sheet of half length ribs or cut individually.
Face ~ Cara
Well they do say the only thing you can’t eat from a pig is its squeak. You can find a whole pigs face on sale occasionally from some butchers. Usually the face is roasted, the tastiest part are the cheeks which have a nice texture, these can be purchased on their own and are usually cooked by simply grilling or frying in olive oil.
Suckling Pig ~ Cochinillo
Suckling pig is a year round speciality in Spain’s capital Madrid. In rural parts suckling pig is quite hard to find although you stand a better chance during festivities or around Christmas. Suckling pig is savoured and has a melt in mouth texture as the meat literally falls away from the bone and of course there is the crackling . . .
Lamb ~ Cordero
Lamb is hugely popular in Spain. There are five regions in Southern Spain which are officially recognised to breed “Cordero Segureno” a breed of sheep which has over time become accustomed to the harsh conditions of rural Spain. Its flavour is superb and locally, is served up as “asado” which is large dish slow cooked and presented in a roasting tin in the centre of the table for all the family.
Goat ~ Cabra
Less popular than it used to be although can still be found on occasion. Older goat is quite tough and similar to mutton. Younger goat/kid goat “Choto Cabrito” is very different with a pale meat containing hardly any fat. Goat is usually cooked the same way as lamb.
Beef ~ Tenera
Beef is somewhat of a rarity in rural Southern Spain, the conditions are far from ideal so meat is predominantly pork, lamb and chicken. You can still buy beef from the odd specialist butcher who concentrates on raising their own stock and although expensive is always of the highest quality. Beef ribs are available and are quite economical, top end of the scale is fillet and although expensive always proves good value for money. One advantage of a beef counter is indicating the thickness you would like your steak!
Restaurant tip: Ordering steak
|Well Done||Muy echo|
|Very Rare||Muy poco echo|
Rabbit ~ Conejo
Rabbit is widely available and can be purchased whole or in halves cut straight down the middle. A main ingredient in rabbit and pork paella but can also be served on its own with a mixture of herbs. Rabbit, more often than not is cooked in the same way as chicken quarters and is a main ingredient in Spanish winter stews.
Wild Boar ~ Jabali
Quite rare and will certainly have to be asked for in Southern regions, popular recipes include wild boar stew and wild boar sausages are quite common in Northern Spain both in fresh and cured varieties.
Kidneys ~ Rinones
Usually lambs kidneys found in Spain, quite highly regarded and always available. Favourite recipes include kidneys cooked in sherry and garlic topped off with parsley.
Liver ~ Higado
Not as popular as it once was and you will probably have to ask for it. Liver is normally from the pig, old recipes include heavily herbed liver fried over the open fire with a mixture of garlic, rosemary and thyme. Liver is also sometimes served with hot salsas.
Brains ~ Sesos
Lambs brains are sold all over Spain and are enjoyed as starters or a light lunch. Simply cooked, brains are often seasoned then coated in breadcrumbs and deep fried.
Tongue ~ Lengua
Pork tongue (and occasionally beef) is another type of offal still popular today in Spain. Tongue is usually braised in wine or sherry and garlic or served up with a tomato and herb salsa.
Chicken ~ Pollo
Reliable chicken and always available. Chicken is cooked in so many ways in Spain and used to its full potential. Most butchers instead of discarding the carcass after removing the legs, breasts etc sell the fresh carcases as they are hugely popular with Spaniards for making stock. Again nothing much goes to waste and a good chicken stock is essential for a good paella! Ask for a full chicken prepared for the barbeque and you will witness a full bird flattened within minutes. The butcher will remove the breast, slice the quarters perfectly ready for the grill, also very handy for marinating.
Turkey ~ Pavo
Popular at Christmas time although nowhere near to that of the UK. Turkey is purchased to feed large families and also for something that little different. If you have a local Spanish butcher that stocks turkey for the festivities then the chances are he may be able to order Turkey for you all year round. Turkey is very cost effective and of course lots of paella stock from that big carcass.
What you are unlikely to find:
Strangely, you won’t find gammons or freshly cured bacon in a Spanish butchers. The nearest thing to good bacon for flavour is actually cured pancetta which can be purchased vacuum packed in whole pieces. The pancetta needs to be sliced thinly before frying. Not for every palate as fried pancetta is quite salty. Bacon can be purchased in packs but if you are used to good English or Danish varieties you will find pre packed bacon in Spain somewhat lacking in flavour. Gammon is something which simply is not produced in large quantities if at all. You can understand the reasons why with so many cuts of fresh and cured pork available perhaps gammon has no appeal especially with good quality serrano hams available.
What the butcher makes
As you would expect there are all manner of sausages and burgers made “in situ” (or certainly very close by) by the Spanish butcher. Most of these products are the standard run of the mill produce you can find in any butcher however there is the odd exception…
Cooking chorizo is a chorizo sausage freshly made and has been left to hang for 2 – 3 days. When a Spanish chorizo is first made (usually in strings of 8 – 10 sausages) they appear very pale. After a couple of days however, the spices, chilli, paprika begin to change the chorizo into a vibrant deep red colour. It is at this point that cooking chorizos are ideal for the Barbeque or to be cooked in stews, a famous one being “Fabada Asturiana” which involves chorizo, morcilla, pancetta cooked with white beans, as the name suggests the recipe is from the Northern region of Spain Asturias (also famous for its incredibly good cider)
Another speciality which is made, cooked even before being preserved is Lomo de Orza. You can find this product which comes in large jars in most Spanish butchers and delicatessens. Lomo de Orza consists of large chunks of pork tenderloin which has been lightly fried in olive oil, garlic and herbs (and a few secret ingredients depending on the butcher). The chunks of pork are then placed in a glass jar and preserved in extra virgin olive oil. Look out for Lomo de Orza in refrigerated display units, it may at first not look very appealing as the olive oil will have solidified and become yellow in the fridge, served at room temperature though and you have delicacy unlike any other, melt in the mouth loin of pork in a green golden extra virgin olive oil. Fabulous with salads or simply as classy tapas.
Black pudding or “Morcilla” deserves a mention as these sausages are usually made weekly using the butchers own recipe. Black pudding in Spain comes in strings of sausages the same as chorizo and you can ask for hot “picante” or sweet “dulce”. Recipes vary with the use of onions one of the most popular however morcilla can be purchased mixed especially with walnuts or a truly mouth watering blend of cinnamon. Morcilla is usually very fresh, can be used in stews or fried for breakfast and served with free range fresh eggs.
Pinchitos are kebabs in Spanish and although you are unlikely to find ready made kebabs in your Spanish butchers you will probably see a large tray of cubed pork which has an impressive yellow textured appearance. The pork is marinated in a “Pinchitos mix” which is a traditional combination of herbs influenced by the Moors. Pinchitos mix has a unique flavour using garlic, oregano, aniseed, cayenne pepper and caraway seed, it can also be used to marinade lamb, chicken and occasionally beef. The powder mixture is mixed with just enough olive oil to create a coarse marinade, the flavour in spicy but not too hot and compliments the meat very well indeed. Serve with cold beer, summer wine or red/white Rioja’s.
It is important to remember that due to cultural differences your shopping experience will be very different in your Spanish butchers. Any good butcher no matter which nationality will pride himself on quality, fresh produce. It’s worth noting that in rural parts of Spain much of the meat you see on display in the carniceria has come from animals that have been raised (in most cases) in natural conditions. It would be a mistake to assume that all produce has come from free range stock but perhaps more realistic to know that there is no need for intensive farming in rural parts, as such you will be able purchase and enjoy fresh quality meat on a regular basis.
Just like Mother used to make (and still does!)
One of the more enjoyable aspects of getting to know your Spanish butcher is the fact that they are always highly enthusiastic about their recipes. Again, culturally, butchers hand down their businesses to sons and daughters much the same as other parts of Europe, the main difference in small rural villages is that although your Spanish butchers may now have tiled floors, fresh paint, regulation fridges and a clear license on prominent display it was only half way through the last century that many these “businesses” were started from scratch, even the building was built by the family. With this comes a tradition and that tradition includes recipes old and new. If there is one thing that the Spanish pride themselves on then its home cooking, recipes are plenty as you would expect as literally everything is used and even if you did have too much then it was shared with the neighbour long before the fridge freezer ever came along.
If you can, ask your butcher for some cooking tips, they are always willing to share some knowledge, tell you what to do with what, which spice to add, how much chilli and which pan to use!