Friday, March 28, 2008

The Names of Cuts of Beef in Mexican Spanish

A Trip to the Carnicería
by Victoria Challancin

Shopping for meat can be daunting. This may come as a surprise to Americans who are accustomed to shopping in American grocery stores where everything is sanitized, tidy, clearly weighed, and labeled with familiar terms in a familiar language. Stray a bit from your familiar turf, however, and a whole new world could reveal itself. I learned over thirty years ago, when I left my carnivorous comfort zone and moved abroad, that, in fact, there might be serious reasons other than health concerns to become a vegetarian. And one trip to a "foreign" butcher shop just might push you over the edge.

Journeying through Afghanistan, where fly-encrusted fresh carcasses were hung in doorways and hacked on all day by butchers who sold their meat wrapped in newspaper, should have given me pause. It didn’t. I ate my way through every kebab house that placed itself in my path at mealtime throughout countries such as Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. And when I moved to Abu Dhabi, where meat is killed by the humane practices prescribed by the Prophet Mohammad, I still didn’t flinch. Even in sophisticated Paris, where I lived with my cousin, a trip to the boucherie with its horse-head sign didn’t slow me down either. Even when chickens were purchased with their heads still attached and rabbits came unseparated from their furry feet to prove that they weren’t cats, my carnivorous habits persevered. Although these animals provided a unique challenge when faced with my one dull knife, I still managed. Mexico? My son’s favorite food is head tacos (tacos de cabeza) from a local food stall which displays it’s semi-bare, lewdly grinning heads all in a row—clearly a mark of pride over how many have been sold. And last Spring when I led two different groups of women through the souks of Morocco, I may have been the only person completely inured to the dripping animal heads placed enticingly on the counters of the colorful butcher shops.


But in the grand scheme of things, a chicken with its head is still obviously a chicken. A rabbit with its feet, as well as providing a built-in good-luck talisman, was familiar to me. A goat’s head? Well, ok. I’ve eaten worse. Goats' eyes, for example. Since my father and brothers were hunters, as were most of the males I knew in South Florida where I grew up, they provided our table with a constant supply of fresh meat. I understood the process. And though I have had to defend hunting practices as an adult whose consciousness has certainly undergone change, I grew up being accustomed to seeing freshly killed animals being prepared for dinner or for freezing. In fact, our chest freezers always were brimming with venison, quail, dove, rabbit, frog legs, turtle, and occasionally alligator. I cannot claim to have been removed from the process. My exposure was hardly sanitized.


So what happened over twenty years ago when I moved to Mexico? Was it the butchering process itself that was distasteful? Certainly no more so than was normal. Was the butcher himself not obliging? Never! Was it the meat itself? Of course, it did look substantially different, not remotely close to cuts I could then recognize, but it was still, after all, just meat. Was it the language? Well…it’s true that while my exceptional language skills allowed me to translate rather soon after my arrival such Spanish terms like T-bone, other cuts remained a mystery. Costillas I could handle; falda seemed obvious (but wasn’t); bistec sounded suspiciously like “beefsteak,” and though it didn’t look quite the same, I trusted that there was a connection between the two that I could believe in. But what on earth was diezmillo? Chambarete? Aguayón? And how was I going to explain to my helpful carnicero, who was so eager to accommodate, what it was that I wanted? Pointing to my shoulder or patting my belly when ordering seemed somehow inadequate. A crash course in “meat” Spanish was clearly necessary. Unfortunately, the Internet was not yet born and most books and charts were based on the Spanish from Spain, not Mexico, so the terms made little sense to either me or to my poor, obliging butcher.
And now for those of my readers and students who have need of some help with their Mexican butcher or at the grocery store and for those of you who can’t understand your Mexican cookbooks, let me share what I have learned over the years. Let’s see if I can demystify the process of translating some basic cuts from English to Mexican Spanish. And let’s start with beef.

Understanding Cuts of Beef
Pre-cut meat in Mexico may look different than you are accustomed to seeing. While the basic cuts are pretty much the same, the way they are broken down may be different. Generally, Mexican butchers are extremely helpful and will cut meat to order, if you can explain exactly what you want. Mexican beef is not usually aged, almost never marbled, and usually what little fat there is, is removed. For this reason, meat that is to be grilled or cooked quickly, benefits from the marinating process. Larger cuts are generally braised or stewed. Because terminology may vary from region to region as well, a little knowledge of the animal itself or from what part the meat comes from, is very useful.
Because beef is muscle tissue, the cuts that come from frequently used muscles are logically tougher and generally require long, slow moist-heat cooking methods such as braising in liquid (braising, stewing, and boiling) to loosen and melt the connective tissues, a process which makes them tender. But not all connective tissue will become tender when cooked.

The two main components of connective tissue are collagen (white) and elastin (yellow). When a slow, moist cooking method is used, collagen melts and becomes gelatin-like. Elastin, on the other hand, only shrinks and becomes even harder when it cooks. For this reason, elastin should be removed before cooking.

The most exercised muscles, the toughest, are the chuck, brisket, round and shank. The tenderest cuts come from the least excercised muscles, such as the loin.

Toughest cuts:
Chuck: pot roast, stew meat, hamburger
Brisket: corned beef and barbecued beef
Round: (including top round, bottom round, eye of the round, and rump roast) Top round can be roasted (example: London broil), but the other cuts should be cooked using moist-heat methods. Sometimes, however, these cuts are roasted and served very thin, as in deli-style roast beef.
Shank, or leg: is best braised, stewed, or in stocks.

The short plate and flank constitute the cuts considered “medium tough,” or if you cup is half-full like mine, “medium tender.” Even though the muscle fiber is tough, these cuts still contain sufficient intramuscular fat to help maintain tenderness. These cuts can be grilled, but benefit from being marinated. Cutting them across the grain once they are cooked, also yields a more tender piece of meat.

Medium-tender cuts:
Short plate: skirt steak
Flank: flank and hanger steaks (good for Mexican fajitas)

The most delicate cuts of beef come from the rib, short loin, and sirloin. Cuts like rib steaks (also called delmonico or prime rib), rib eye steaks, (boneless), and rib roasts, all come from the rib. The sirloin provides a variety of steaks named from where they are cut from. These can be broiled, grilled, sautéed, or roasted.

The most delicate cuts:
Rib: rib steaks, rib eye steaks, rib roasts
Sirloin: sirloin, top sirloin, bottom sirloin, and tri-tip

The most tender cuts come form the short loin. From the larger side of the short loin we get porterhouse, T-bone, top loin, strip, New York strip, and shell steak. The smaller side provides the tenderloin or filet mignon. The loins can be cut into roasts or smaller steaks.

The most tender cuts:
Steaks: Porterhouse, T-bone, top loin, strip, New York strip, and shell
Roasts: tenderloin, filet mignon


A Few Tips for Cooking Beef
Amounts to buy:
Allow 225g/8oz to 350g/12oz per person from a roast on the bone and 150g/6oz to 225g/8oz per person from boneless roasts. A steak weighing 125g/5oz to 225/8oz should be enough to satisfy most appetites.

Safe temperatures: A roast whose internal temperature reads 145F, is considered safe to eat. Ground meat is considered safe at 160F.

Medium rare: 145F
Medium: 160F
Well-done: 170F


A Glossary of Terms in English/Español
(Note: This program will not leave the following list in appropriate columns--sorry!)
Basic Terms:
English/Español

Beef carne de res
Ground beef carne molida or molida de res
Boneless deshuesada/o, pulpa, or en trozo
Very finely chopped picada
To shred deshebrar
Bone marrow tuétano
Meat for grilling carne para asar
Meat for shredding (for tacos) carne para deshebrar
Meat for stewing carne para guisar

Specific Cuts of Beef/Cortes de Res
I have amplified the basic chart provided by The Beef Retail group at http://www.beefretail.org/markSpanishLanguageBeefCutsChart.aspx
I have also given the most common cuts found in San Miguel de Allende, where I live. Do check it out though as the drawings should make everything clear.
Chuck
Chuck Diezmillo or sometimes paleta (shoulder)
Chuck roast Paleta or diezmillo en trozo Chuck shoulder Bistec corazón de paleta deshusad
Chuck shoulder steak, boneless Bistec corazón de diezmilloNeck Pescuezo (used for broths or jugo de res)
Shoulder Paleta (used for chuck steaks and pot roasts)
Blade DiezmilloCross rib roast Diezmillo
Brisket Pecho
Stew meat/beef Res para guisar
Brisket Pecho
Whole brisket Pecho entero Flat-cut brisket, boneless Pecho, corte plano, deshuesado
Shank Chambarete Foreshank or Cross-cut shank Chambarete de mano Rear shank Chambarete de mano
For Stock Copete
Loin Lomo
Short loin FileteTop loin steak Chuleta de filete Filet mignon FileteT-bone T-bone (yes,it is the same)
Soup bones Retazo con hueso o huesos para caldoPorterhouse Chulete de los lomos Tenderloin steak, pounded thin Sábana (i.e. "sheet")
Rib Entrecot Rib roast or steak Costillas Short ribs Agujas cortas
Flank Falda (of course falda means "skirt" in Spanish, but this is really a flank steak)
Plate Falda anteriorFlank Falda posteriorSkirt steak (from the diaphragm muscle) Arrachera
Sirloin AguayónSirloin steak Chuleta de aguayónSirloin tip roast Aguayón en trozo Top sirloin steak Bistec de aguayónTri-tip roast Empuje en trozoTri-tip steak Bistec de empuje
Round PiernaTop Round Steak Bistec de CentroRound Tip Steak, thin cut Milanesa de pulpa bolaRound tip roast Pulpa bola en trozoBottom round roast Pulpa contra en trozoEye round roast Cuete en trozoEye round steak Bistec de cuete
Ribs CostillasRib roast (small end, premium) Costillar Punta PequeñaRib steak, small end ChuletónRib Eye Roast, premium Costillar de primera, deshuesadoRib Eye Steak Rib Eye Steak (yes, it is the same)Rib steaks Costillas chuletasBack ribs Costillas traserasShort ribs Agujas cortas
Short Loin LomoTop loin (strip) steak, boneless Bistec de lomo, deshuesadoT-Bone steak T-bone steak (the same in Spanish)Porterhouse steak Porterhouse steakTenderloin roast, premium Filete en trozo, de primeraTenderloin steak Bistec de filete
Short Plate Agujas
Short ribs Agujas cortas
Skirt steak Arrachera
Round/Rump Roast Tapa
Top round Tapa
Bottom round,bottom round, eye of round Cuete
Tip roast, Tip steaks Bola or empuje
Other Cuts Otros CortesGround beef Carne molidaCubed steak Bistec suavizadoBeef for kebabs Cubos para brochetasStew beef Carne para guisarBeef for stir-fry Tiritas de carne

©Victoria Challancin.  

28 comments:

Babs said...

OMG, I NOW have a list! I have hesitated to go to the butcher because of my limited Spanish. I have SO wanted to cook a pot roast and was trying to figure out how to say that. I'm printing out this blog and putting it in my recipe box where it won't get lost!

Billie said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you. Like Babs, I'm printing this out to have handy when I'm making out my grocery list.

Shawn Marie said...

what about pulpa blanca... pulpa negra is the top round. so what is pulpa blanca....???

Victoria Challancin said...

Shawn,
This is from Victoria of Flavors of the Sun.
I had to do some research on this via the butcher as I hadn't heard the term "pulpa blanca" before, but was told that the pulpa blanca is still from that large flank cut, but is the internal part whereas the pulpa negra comes from the "frontal de la pierna." Does this help? If not, I'll try to expand it a bit if needed.

Shawn Marie said...

I was just wondering because I work in a Mexican Store in MI, We have about 50/50 American and Hispanic customers so we have to put everything in English and Spanish. So was looking for what I would call la pulpa blanca, because you call the pulpa negra 'top round'

Victoria Challancin said...

Shawn,
OK. I do love a mystery. Now I am told that pulpa blanca is another name for bottom round, whereas pulpa negra is top round. Does this sound right to you? I still haven't seen the term used here in Guanajuato.

Shawn Marie said...

yep that sounds pretty good! gracias!

Victoria Challancin said...

I'm pleased it was helpful!

Saludos,
Victoria

Anonymous said...

Pulpa Blanca is also known as flat meat, I work at a Wholesale meat company.

Victoria Challancin said...

Good to know. Thanks for sharing.
Victoria

Prithy said...

I was recently at a Mexican grocery (prior to reading your blog unfortunately) and saw a cut of meat that resembled a skirt steak. It was brown (not red like the meat I am used to seeing at a meat market) and it had a uniformly oily texture. The butcher told me the cut was from the leg. Is this skirt steak? Is it safe to consume? Why the oily texture?

Victoria Challancin said...

Hi Prithy,
I'm not sure what cut of meat you are seeing at your grocer, but it is probably not skirt steak. Your butcher said it came from the leg and skirt steak comes from the plate which is located underneath the cow, not on the legs. I also have no idea why the meat is oily-looking. If the color is brownish, it is probably because it is somewhat aged, but I would have to see it to be sure. Hope this helps!

Prithy said...

Thank you! The next time I go to the butcher, I will have to ask him the "term" for the cut of meat and compare it to the list that you have - it is wonderful to have this resource!

Unknown said...

it wasn't marinated was it? at my father in laws store he has a cut of meat that they sell marinated, and they use an oil and spices to marinate it.

Victoria Challancin said...

Dear Unknown,
I think you're right! That's a perfect explanation. Here in Mexico you often find pre-marinated arrachera, which is darker and oilier than regular meat, for sale. I don't know why I didn't think of that earlier. Thank you!

Anonymous said...

The brown oily meat could be cecina.

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry if this was clearly explained and I missed it. My co-worker brought in some delicious beef tinga that I am going to be adventurous and try to make. He said I need Carne para Decebrar, which I can see from your blog is for shredding, but if I go to the market, I still don't know what exactly that would equate to, I am seen some things that say brisket and some that say flank steak? Any ideas? thanks

Victoria at Flavors of the Sun said...

Flank or skirt steak is easy to "deshebrar" with a fork because it separates so easily into strands. I just asked my Mexican cooking students and they agreed.

Alejandra Viaduc said...

Thank you so much! I moved to a Mexican neighborhood in Chicago and all the labels are in English, but the butchers only speak spanish. I know basic vocabulary, but this is wildly specific and my family is from south america. My dad explained that these cuts are regional, so this page has saved me. I LOVE cooking and was going to cry myself to sleep for a year if I couldn't find a good way to communicate with our butcher.
I have one more- What would I call the thin sliced corned beef sandwhich meat? Again, it says Corned Beef in English at the store, but we have to play the point and grunt game for quite a while to get the right one.
Lol. Thanks!!

Anonymous said...

Hi there,

I live in Mexico and would like to know which corte de res is closest to Silverside. Think it's similar to a cut of round in the States but I am not sure.

Thanks,

Antonio.

Anonymous said...

Justo lo q buscaba

Anonymous said...

Does Bistec Para Desebrar have to be shredded? I bought it to make carne asada tacos. I would marinade it, grill it and then cut into strips. Would this work? I don't want to shred it.

Thanks

lfro said...

Thank You very much. Living in San Diego, I find this information invaluable! I posted a link on fb for all my other friends. However, I tried to find your chart, and it was no longer available. Do you know where I may access it? Thank you, Lacey

Victoria Challancin said...

Dear Ifro,
So glad the information is helpful to you and others. This post is so old, I guess the original chart disappeared, or rather, the link to it is no longer valid. Sorry about that. You might try Google for another--I am certain they are out there somewhere!

Anonymous said...

Hi Victoria, I see that you recently replied to this old post, which gives me hope :) I would like to ask your advice on what kind of meat may I request at the carniceria that will be yummy for shish kabobs? I cannot afford to buy fillet minon as I would need to buy plenty. My hubby invited quite a few friends for a BBQ we are hosting tonight.

From the information I read I figure it would be cubos para brochetas but I would actually like to cut the meat myself & I'm unclear on what kind of meat to request. We've tried using stew meat & it was incredibly tough, now I understand why.

Would it be aguayón en troso?

Thank you in advance (:

Nancy

Victoria Challancin said...

Hi Nancy,
Aguayón is indeed sirloin, but if I were you I would just ask the butcher which cut he would recommend. Stew meat is definitely not what you want as it requires braising and long-cooking to make it tender. Sirloin will certainly work for skewers, but if you want to splurge, rib-eye or porterhouse would be good. If buying sirloin, which is fine, as for the "tip," which is the most tender part of the cut. Hope this helps.

RaideretteNancyLove said...

Thank you so much Victoria! That helps a lot. I will definitely ask the carnicero what he recommends, but in case I am not convinced with his recommendation, I sincerely appreciate your blog, your time & your prompt response :)

For future reference, I will ask for rib-eye or porterhouse for my family. However, tonight's event is last minute & since I didn't budget for it in advance, I wanted to get the best for the best price so I will ask for the "tip" of the sirloin. Now here goes my silly question since I am supposed to be fluent in both English & Spanish... Aye ay ay... How do I say that in Spanish? "Me puede dar la punta de aguayón en trosos?"

Thank you,

Nancy

Victoria Challancin said...

Nancy,
"Punta de aguayon" works for me. I always think I am fluent as well, but special usage...well...I asked my son, who was born in Mexico and is certainly fluent, and he said that works for him, but he wasn't sure either. Whew!