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Secrets of the Spanish forest.

Normally I answer reader questions in a different format, but this time I’m devoting an entire post to a reader question as it coincides with something I was writing about already.

From R.R., 2 December 2011, ibérico pork – how to cook it?

Q: So we went on vacation to Williamsburg, and eded up bringing home this as a souvenir: Presa de Paleta Iberica – Iberico de Bellota Pork Shoulder Steak from Spain.

But now I’m all confused by the cut, which I’ve never used before. Do I slow cook it, like a regular shoulder? Grill it? (and outdoor grilling is not really on my list of things to do now that it’s 50 degrees out). Most of the recipes I’m finding for the cut online involve a brine, but would that defeat the point of the getting the Iberico in the first place? How do I show this cut and this meat off?

A: Thanks for your question. Am I glad you wrote – it happens that I’ve been trying to finish a piece on exactly this subject for nearly a month and needed a kick to force me to get it done.

Remember back in October, when we chatted about Spanish jamón and cooked up some croquetas? If you’re a fan of Spanish cuisine – or high quality products in general – you already knew about the acorn-fed jamón ibérico de bellota, and its creamy, nutty fat. Perhaps you wondered what happens to the rest of the pig?

Until 2008, the jamón ibérico de bellota, not to mention the raw cuts from the pig, wasn’t available in the States. I wasn’t even aware until a few months ago that those raw cuts were sold here at all. Earlier this summer at the Fancy Food Show, though, I was lucky enough to try some other cuts of the ibérico pig. Jose Ignacio Martinez-Valero, the distributor for Iberico Fresco lured me in with a lomo crudo – thin slices of the raw loin, dressed with just a little salt and olive oil. Imagine putting a slice of raw supermarket pork in your mouth – it’s a disgusting idea. But the raw ibérico was at its best as a crudo or barely cooked, with the fat dissolved around the tender meat. After noticing my response to the crudo, Señor Martinez-Valero encouraged me to stick around for the other cuts – the solomillo, a lean and tender cut like tenderloin, served just medium-rare; the secreto, or shoulder skirt, thinly sliced and barely seared like tataki; and the pluma, loin tips as well-marbled as Wagyu beef. As a matter of fact, between samples, we discussed the superior quality of the pata negra pigs and the resemblance to Wagyu. “Ibérico pork is the Kobe of pork,” said Señor Martinez-Valero, and he was right. The meat tasted like Wagyu -or really, more like ventresca or otoro, the fattiest cut of the tuna belly.

Señor Martinez-Valero informed me that, as of summer, he was in the process of negotiating an east coast distribution deal for the raw ibérico product, but that it wasn’t available in my area yet. So I gave up on any immediate prospects for cooking up that sweet, sweet pork until a few weeks ago, when, sourcing jamón in the Washington area, I discovered that Wagshal’s Market in DC actually carries raw ibérico, both in its retail store and by order through the Ibérico USA site. I called up the market, chatted pork with the delightful butcher Pam Ginsburg, and walked out of the store later that week shouldering a ten pound slab of pork belly, four cheeks, and two secretos. Pam is a lady who really knows her meat, and while I sampled her house-made ibérico chorizo, complete with chunks of creamy white fat, she informed me that the secreto formerly was considered a trash cut and shipped to China on the cheap. It kind of makes you wonder about every other cut of meat you’ve ever trimmed away and ground up into mince or fed to the dog.

It's a secreto.

Anyway, on to one of your questions: what is this “presa” cut? According to the description on the Ibérico USA site, it’s a cut attached to the shoulder, at the head of the loin. Have a look at this depiction of American pork cuts and see where the shoulder (the blade shoulder, or Boston butt) meets the loin.

So knowing this, you should treat the presa more as you would the loin, rather than the shoulder, a tougher cut full of connective tissue that needs to be cooked more slowly. Cook it to medium rare – the loin as a whole is fairly lean and is not rich in connective tissue. Give it a good sear in a ripping hot pan with some grapeseed oil (which will take a minute or two), and then turn it over. At this point, for any meat over 2″ thick, I recommend finishing in a low oven – say 275F – until the meat is just barely cooked through to a warmish red/pink center. Otherwise, with a thinner cut, you can turn the stovetop heat down and finish it on the stove. Flip it once or twice to ensure even cooking. Rest the meat when you take it off the heat – five minutes for something about 1 1/2″ or so, ten minutes for something 2″ or larger.

When finished, it should look and feel like medium rare beef, on the slightly more rare side. You do want it to be at least a little warm throughout and not cold in the center – as this meat resembles Wagyu, and even the relatively lean presa has some decent fat marbling, it should be cooked to a warm enough temperature to soften the fat, or at least 100F/38C. Cold fat can leave a slightly greasy or waxy feeling on the palate. Serve it in thin slices across the grain.

Secreto

As I said earlier, I walked out of Wagshal’s with two pieces of secreto as well as the belly and cheeks (which I will address in the near future). On arriving home, I seasoned them simply with salt, and seared them in oil in a super hot pan on both sides for about three minutes each, basting with a little butter added after the secretos hit the pan. The center was barely warmed and the fat had not melted, but was softened. There was a bit more than a tablespoon of fat in the bottom of the pan, which I used to sauté some bunashimeiji mushrooms, finished with a splash of amontillado.

On the rare side (with bunashimeiji mushrooms, celery and apple salad)

The meat tasted rich and clean, without a trace of the barnyard. My husband, who still shudders a little at the idea of eating conventional pork cooked to medium if you let him think about it too much, cleaned his plate without hesitation in about five minutes. It’s a splurge, no doubt – the pound or so of meat cost nearly $40 – but if you’d rather eat smaller quantities of better quality pork, ibérico is the way to go.

[Pork cuts image from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:American_Pork_Cuts.svg%5D

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4 thoughts on “Secrets of the Spanish forest.

  1. Pingback: Waste not, want not. « The Upstart Kitchen

  2. Pingback: spanish cuisine :: the ibérico pig | Wagshal's Blog

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  4. Pingback: Sweet and sour pork. « The Upstart Kitchen

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