It's much simpler to go to a specialist who'll make it for you. Remember, a little piece goes far to satisfy your need for both protein, and salt, for that matter.
I've had it, both in the United States and in different parts of Mexico. Some (at a Mexican restaurant in Little Rock, Arkansas) it was so tough that it was impossible to chew. Even 4 hours of slow simmering at home rendered it barely masticable.
But cecina varies.
In Chihuahua city, in 1990, we entered a small shop selling everything needed to make antojitos Mexicanos: dried chiles, hojas de maíz para tamales, masa fresca, maíz pozolero preparado. They also served platillos típicos del Distrito Federal. The owner, Ramón, was from el DF and Edomex. One platillo offered was cecina enchilada. Although the hour was late, and the owner was reparing to close, he cooked a slab of cecina enchilada for me, and heated up a bowl of first rate pozole for Susan.
When the cecina arrived, I was a little surprised: it was like a large, thin, boneless steak. I had misunderstood and had been thinking of "enchiladas": corn tortillas dipped in a thin chile sauce, lightly fried, with a filling.
This was different. Pura carne, lightly coated with chile molido. It was pleasantly salty and mildly picante, chewy but doable. I'd rate it a "9" on the Chewy but Doable Decimal Scale.
Some years later, while in Oaxaca, we had tasajo, the Oaxacan version of cecina, often served in small pieces on tlayudas, (extra grande tortillas), smeared with a paste of frijoles negros, and nicely garnished with onions, avocado, tomato and quesillo, or Oaxacan string cheese. One is a meal.
Oaxaca goes its own separate way in la comida regional. There, "cecina" refers to sheets of semi dried pork, often with a sprinkling of chile molido. Tasajo is made from beef. This section of the Mercado 11 de noviembre, in Oaxaca Centro, specializes in grilled tasajo and cecina. It looks like a scene from Hell, but it smells great.
Here's a picture of a tlayuda con tasajo.
|Tasajo Tlayuda in a Fonda Oaxaqueña|
Last week, I saw that one of our favorite Pátzcuaro carnicerías, La Sin Rival, had some strips of cecina on top of the counter. I asked the hard working owner, Sr. Moíses Pérez H. about it. He guided me to some that was drier, for not long ago, at another carnicería, I'd bought some that spoiled. The fault was mine, for leaving it in the plastic bag without refrigeration. Not all cecina attains the dryness of carne seca, otherwise known as jerky.
|Red flag means "Fresh meat today"|
The cecina from La Sin Rival fared better. It became breakfast a few mornings later. I lightly oiled a skillet, and browned the meat on both sides. Meanwhile, I fried some huevos estrellados. These were flanked by a steaming mound of stone ground speckled grits from Nora Mill, Helen GA. Add some salsa casera of your choice, and you're all set. It's my Mexican version of a Good 'Ol Boy breakfast down South; the cecina a perfect stand-in for salty, aged Country Ham.
A couple of days later, I lucked out when carrying my camera while in Pátzcuaro Centro. I went to La Sin Rival with hopes of photographing some cecina. Sr. Pérez told me that none was available until later, as it was drying at that moment, in the patio of the family house.
He generously allowed me to pass through the work area of the carnicería to the pleasant patio where a large slab of plywood held sheets of meat drying in the sun.
|Cecina drying in the sun|
The carnicero and his assistant apply vegetable oil to keep flies from alighting.
|Applying a light coat of vegetable oil|
|Sr. Moises with some dried cecina|
I asked if any jugo de limón was used in the process, as I'd read in an old Mexican food cookbook.
"No Señor, solamente sal y un poco de aceite.", he replied.*
I recommend trying cecina when you have the chance. Just be sure to get it from a reliable shop like La Sin Rival in Pátzcuaro. (But, if you are less adventuresome, get una Hamburguesa Doble, como te gusta, at the Cafetería Chió's next door. Sr. Pérez wife runs the tidy little lonchería, and makes some of the best, juiciest hamburgers in Pátzcuaro.)
Soon, we hope to sample some at a Santa Rosa, Guanajuato Restaurant, "La Cabana de la Lolita", recommended to us by Rachel Laudan, food scholar living in Guanajuato, as serving "Incredible cecina."
I hope to report back soon with my findings.
*I have the theory that all too often, American writers on Mexican food make overly complicated, overly elaborated versions of some simple, uncomplicated food. We could discuss the example of carnitas, but not here at this time. Remind me later.