Sunday, September 23, 2007

The ultimate guide to Mexican meat

You think you speak Spanish? I bet you can’t even read a Mexican menu. I certainly couldn’t when I got here and I swear someone’s inventing new kinds of meat here everyday just to confuse me.

In school, learning the words for different meats was a 10-minute mini-lesson that looked something like this:

Red meat – carne
Beef – res
Chicken – pollo
Pork – puerco
Fish – pescado

Mexicans have a considerably broader view of the realm of meat, as reflected in their use of a bajillion different words, much as the Eskimos have a bajillion different words for snow.
You might pick up a Mexican menu with only two menu items – let’s say tacos and tortas (a badass Mexican sandwich) – that runs to two or three pages because there are so many different meats or combinations of meats listed.

The quick and dirty guide:


Al pastor – a succulent hunk of pork with a delicious sauce that is roasted on a continually turning spit for hours. You’ll see guys adeptly lopping off bits of the meat and the pineapple on top with a machete-like knife, the meat flying through the air, landing perfectly on the tortilla in his hand. Impressive.
Jamon - ham
Tocino- bacon
Cueritos – strips of gelatinous pork fat. This one is not growing on me, even when draped over a bed of cabbage sprinkled with lime and hot sauce on top of a big chicarron.
Chicharrones – pork rinds. So bad, but yet so good.
Milanesa – a piece of pork pounded to less than a centimeter thick, breaded and fried
Maciza – pure, solid leg meat
Chuleta – pork chop
Carnitas – various body parts, thankfully chopped into little bits
Trompa - snout
Cachete – cheek


Arrachera – outrageously tender beef
Bistec – straight up beef, thin sliced steak
Carne asada – grilled steak, usually marinated in lime or orange juice
cecina - beef, thin sliced, salted, dried in the sun
Costillas - ribs
Tripa – pork intestines. Yes I tried them, no I was not a fan.
Lengua – tongue.
Suadero – thin strips of breast bone meat
Sesos - brains
Machaca – powdered meat. Sounds nasty, but it’s delicious with eggs. Think more like crumbled beef jerky.


Pollo - chicken
Pierna - thigh
Pechuga – chicken breast
Pavo – turkey
Pato – duck

Sausage of indeterminate animal origin

Salchicha – sausage, more like a hot dog
Chorizo – Mexican sausage, crumbly and tasty, also comes in a bright green form which honestly freaks me out.
Loganiza – chorizo, but different, apparently. Even my Mexican friends were a little hard-pressed to pin down the difference, so we grabbed a waiter whose theory was one has more fat, if that is actually possible.


Borrego – ram
Cabra/cabritos – goat
Conejo - rabbit
Médula – marrow
Cochinita de pibil – a Yucatecan specialty of shredded pork with some delectable chile sauce
Adobado – cooked in a chile sauce
Con mole – with a more complex sauce, either made of chiles, chocolate and peanuts, or a green mole with green chiles and garlic and who knows what else
Guisado – a general word for a meat cooked in sauce
A la parilla/asada – grilled
Alambre – a heap of bits of meat, bacon, veggie and cheese

Okay, ya basta. This could go on forever, apparently. I'm starting to feel like Aristotle when he decided to classify the entire plant and animal kingdoms.

And coming as soon as I figure it all out - the ultimate Mexican guide to seafood! Including how to order sushi in Mexico (queso filadelfia, chipotle and salsa tampico anyone?)

Want more? This woman seems quite dedicated to the study of tacos.


Devin said...

This made me very hungry.

gringo said...

I found your weblog looking for something else, but I'll at least straighten you out on the difference between chorizo and longanesa:

Chorizo can be either beef or pork, is ground from any part of the meat that is otherwise unused for any other purpose, and heavily spiced with any number of ingredients, depending on the type of chirozo desired. It is intended to not keep it's molded state during frying.

Longanesa is pork sausage, lightly spiced, and is intended to be fried as it comes in it's molded state.