Have you ever heard of cecina? It’s a mouthwatering delicacy that Mexico has added its unique touch to. While bresaola might be the internationally renowned name, I want to introduce you to cecina, the Central Mexican version. My curiosity was piqued when I spotted “tacos de cecina” on the chalkboard at Kenny’s Place while enjoying my usual San Miguel Sunday caesar. Naturally, I had to go back for those tacos this week.
What is Cecina?
In a nutshell, cecina is salted and air-dried beef. Sounds simple, right? You’d think even I, a self-proclaimed foodie like Don Day, could make it. However, there’s one step in its production that only a skilled cecinero (yes, another fascinating Mexican occupation) can accomplish.
To create the best cecina, you need to start with the most suitable cut of beef. Tenderloin or hind leg meat works wonders. If it’s tenderloin, the cecinero meticulously removes the silver-skin, the fatty membrane encircling the loin. But here’s where the magic happens — using a monstrous machete, the cecinero makes a vertical slice in the filet, resulting in a two-inch thick piece of meat. With skillful precision, they then slice the meat horizontally, creating a dozen or more tantalizing strips from that single piece. It’s truly an art form.
The Drying Process
Next comes the drying and “cooking” of the meat. Personally, I prefer the traditional approach. The beef is generously sprinkled with salt on both sides and then brought outside to bask in the glorious sunshine. It’s either spread on wooden planks or straw mats, and when the cecina turns a perfect shade of chestnut brown (going beyond that risks an unappetizing green hue), it’s ready. The cecina is then taken inside to hang on poles in a cool place, continuing to dry until it’s deemed retail-worthy.
How to Enjoy Cecina
If you’re Spanish, you savor cecina raw, just as you would Jamon Serrano. However, I’m more inclined to Mexican tastes, so I prefer cecina grilled or fried.
The town of Yecapixtla in Morelos takes pride in being the capital of cecina. In fact, the main square boasts a statue dedicated to a cecinero — a fitting tribute. Toluca, a town about 40 miles west of Mexico City, is also a renowned hub for cecina. At Kenny’s Place, Chef Gabriella Blanco sources her cecina from Toluca indirectly, via Beto’s Tacos, who brings this culinary gem to San Miguel’s Tuesday Market every week. It’s the go-to spot for most locals.
Kenny’s Place: The Cecina Taco Haven
At Kenny’s Place, the star of the show is the cecina taco. Chef Gaby expertly chops the cecina into one-inch squares, then heats up a cast iron frypan with a ribbed base. She adds a drizzle of vegetable oil, the meat, and a generous amount of onions. Sprinkling a little pepper on the onions, she places fresh corn tortillas on top, effectively trapping the aromatic steam. One by one, the tortillas are then taken to a separate frypan for a touch of color and crispiness. Finally, they are filled with juicy cecina and slightly charred onions, served three to an order, alongside avocado, sour cream, and a bowl of mouthwatering salsa verde.
The Special Touch
Chef Gaby’s cecina tacos have an extra touch that sets them apart. Inspired by a taco stand in Toluca’s market, she adds two or three french fries to each taco, not more, not less. It’s a small addition that will leave you craving for just a few more.
And let’s not forget the salsa verde. While you can find decent green sauce on supermarket shelves, Chef Gaby’s version has that little zing that makes all the difference. Her secret? Tomatillos, zucchini, garlic, onions, jalapeños, and a pinch of cumin. Yes, cumin! It adds that unexpected kick, combined with a generous amount of jalapeño to further tantalize your taste buds.
The Perfect Pairing
Imagine sitting on a barstool, savoring these exquisite cecina tacos at Kenny’s Place. And to top it off, you can indulge in a slice of carrot cake with a generous layer of cream cheese icing. It’s an experience you won’t find anywhere else.
If you’re ever in San Miguel de Allende, make sure to visit Kenny’s Place at Julián Carrillo 7, Colonia Guadalupe. Open every day from 1:00 pm to 9:00 pm (except Tuesdays), it’s a haven for cecina lovers. So why not treat yourself to a taste of Mexico’s elevated beef delicacy? And remember, for more delightful culinary adventures, explore the Ekilove website.