Friday, October 19, 2012

Meat in Mexico: Beef

If you’re like me, the labels here at the Mexican grocery stores can be somewhat confusing, particularly those on the meats.  I am hoping to help you all, through my Aztec articles and information available on my blog, to decipher some of the confusing labels, and learn how to use all the interesting cuts that are available here in Mexico.  Even if you're not in Mexico, you still might learn a little something.  For this post we’ll talk about beef, and in the coming posts we’ll cover all the different types of meat, including fish.

First of all, I wanted to say that “butchery” and being able to identify cuts of meat and decipher the different names, even in English, is a tricky business and there are many ways to get confused.  Although in the United States most butchers, wholesalers and businesses generally follow the standards of the North American Meat Processors Association (NAMP), it is, in the end, up to the individual butcher or store to fabricate the meat and label the precise “cut” the way they see fit.  There are also fads in the meat industry, just like any other industry.  Cuts come in and go out of vogue.  And of course, the way they butcher meat here in Mexico is completely different. 

What I hope to is give you through the diagram of general cuts shown here (downloadable and printable version available here), as well as the spreadsheet below outlining specific labels, is an easily accessible, home-cook’s guide to buying meat here in Mexico.  If I get something wrong or leave something out, please let me know! 

A couple of things I’ve noticed about Beef in the Mexican Grocery stores:

·         The steaks I’ve seen here that are pre-cut are extremely thin.  These thin steaks (<1in) are better for sautéing and using in stir-fry or tacos.  If you want to grill, either find a thick Argentinean-style cut or ask the butcher at the market to cut it for you.  If you don’t speak Spanish, you can do this by pointing to the cut you want on the shelf and using your fingers to estimate your desired thickness!
·         Mexican beef has a tendency to be tough since it is generally not aged.  When in doubt, marinate your meat prior to grilling, or slow cook it.
·         Many times the package is labeled for the dish made from that particular meat, not the actual cut.
·         There are not a lot of “large” cuts of meat that we as Americans generally use as “Pot Roasts”, which is actually a braising technique…check out my blog post on braising to learn more.  However, you can always ask to have anything cut for you.  Ask for the particular type of meat “en trozo” and specify how many kilograms you want.
·         If you want larger sub-primal cuts of meat (such as a whole beef rib, entire top sirloin, top round, etc.) you must go to a butcher or a place like Costco as these are not generally offered at regular grocery stores, but you can always ask them.  Much like in American grocery stores, these items are pre-fabricated before they get to the store so you would probably have to special order.
·         There are many types of ground beef or “molido” available, but you should feel free to ask the butcher to ground any cut of meat you like or even to finely chop it, known as “picada”.
·         You should also feel free to ask for any cut of meat you like formed into a “milanesa”.  The butcher will pound the meat very thinly for you so you can take it home, bread it and fry it.
·         If you’re going to buy meat at the open-air markets, get there early and take home the meat that hasn’t been sitting out all day.

There is so much to be said on beef that it has filled many many books.  A couple that I recommend, if you’re REALLY into this sort of thing, are ­Meat: Identification, Fabrication,and Utilization by Thomas Schneller as well as The Meat Buyer’s Guide, published by NAMP.  If you’ve always wanted to be the person who knows exactly where the cuts come from on the animal (not just cows but all animals) or if you want to learn how to butcher your own meat, make your own sausage, etc., these are the books for you.  In researching this article for all of you, I utilized these books heavily, and I scoured grocery stores to find all of the crazy labels out there.  
 
Below, in spreadsheet form and also downloadable and printable here, is my comprehensive list of all these labels.  Please note that all the prices are in Mexican Pesos, and are “by the kilogram” unless otherwise stated.  Additionally, these prices are really just a reference for you to be able to compare prices between different cuts, as of course the price varies from store to store and day to day.  Please also be lenient with me and my definition of “traditional” when it comes to recipes.  I realize that, in some cases, the use of these cuts is in no way traditional to one or either cultures, but generally what I’ve characterized here is a way that it is currently used, whether traditional or not.  Finally, I have provided for each cut a direct translation of the label as well as the American equivalent.  Please use these two pieces of information in conjunction with one another, as sometimes the literal translation has nothing to with what the cut really is, and sometimes there is no American equivalent.
 
COMMON LABELS FOR BEEF / RES
Label
Price per Kilo
Translation
American Equivalent
Cooking Method
Traditional American Dish
Traditional Mexican Dish
Aguayon en Trozo
 
Large Piece of Sirloin
Sirloin Tip Roast
Roast
Sirloin Tip Roast
Not traditionally used; must special order
Aguja Larga
$69MXP
long ribs
short ribs (Flanken Style, thin and bone-in, cross-cut); the last few ribs towards the rear of the cow
Braise
Many folks use flanken-style ribs the same as Korean Style since they're just a different way of cutting the same ribs, but I prefer Korean Style!
Agujas Cortas
$65MXP
short ribs
short ribs (Korean Style, 2-inch portions, bone-in); the last few ribs towards the rear of the cow
Braise
Short Ribs
Short Ribs Kabik (Yucatan)
Arrachera
 
no direct translation, meat taken from "por dentro las agujas" or the diaphragm of the cow; skirt steak
skirt steak (traditionally) or flank steak, sometimes pre-marinated
Grill, Sauté
Fajitas
Arrachera
Asado Tiras
$69MXP
grilled strips
None; these are thin, cross-cut portions of the ribs, a specialty of Argentina (also sold uncut)
Grill, Broil
None
Asado o Costilla Cargada, Asado de Tiras
Bife
$134MXP
beef steak
None; an Argentinean cut from either the strip loin or the ribeye
Grill
Steaks
Steaks
Bistec
Varies greatly
beef steak, usually very thin and tough, taken from the round (rear) or the chuck (front) of the cow
None; most steaks in the U.S. are classified more specifically
Marinate, then Grill
Marinated Steaks
Bistec Encebollado
brocheta
 
(sing.) skewer (plur.) kebabs
kebabs
Grill
shish kabobs
 
Cabrería
$144MXP
no direct translation; described as "the most succulent cut of beef which comes from the tenderloin attached to the bone nearest to the back part of beef"
Tenderloin steak (from the short loin portion of the cow) with the bone attached
Grill, Roast
Steaks
Steaks
Carne para Guisar
 
stewing meat, usually from the chuck (front) or brisket (chest) of the cow
Stewing meat
Braise, Stew
Stew
Various Stews
Carne Deshebrada
 
shredded meat
shredded meat, often pre-cooked
Generally just re-heat
Carolina BBQ
Salpicón o Tinga (can also be made by slow-cooking flank steak and then shredding)
Chambarete
$64MXP
shank
shank
Braise
Osso Bucco
Chambarete Español
Chuletón
$99MXP
large steak, T-bone steak; used to describe any large steak cut from the short loin portion of the cow
New York Strip or   T-Bone
Grill, Roast
New York Strip or T-Bone Steak
Steaks
Churrasco
$134MXP
Barbecue
None; practically every Central and South American country has a definition, but here in Mexico it is thinly sliced longways from the skirt steak, can also be from the bottom round (rear) of the cow
Grill, Sauté
Fajitas
Tacos, etc.
Cortadillo
$99MXP
no direct translation, boneless meat from the round (rear) of the cow
Stewing meat
Braise, Stew
Stew
Cortadilla Norteño
Cowboy
$99MXP
Cowboy
Cowboy Steak; Bone-in Rib-eye (steak cut from underneat the ribs)
Grill
Steaks
Steaks
Cuete Trozos
$92MXP
no direct translation; most commonly found "roast" in Mexican grocery stores
Bottom round or eye of round (rear), although not very fatty
Braise
Pot Roast
Cuete Mechado; often Mexican cooks lard this roast with bacon or serrano ham to add fat
Falda
 
"skirt", but this is NOT skirt steak as we know it from the U.S. (which is the diaphragm of the animal)
Flank Steak
Marinate and Grill, Braise or Stew
London Broil
Salpicón, Taquitos, Chalupas
Filete Entero o Centro Filete o Lomo Fino
$289
MXP
center filet
tenderloin
Grill, Sauté, or Roast
tenderloin
Tasajo (Oaxaca)
Filete Tampiqueña
$289
MXP
No direct translation; beef tenderloin that is thinly cut lengthwise
None
Grill
None
Filete Tampiqueña
Kobe Res
$2275
MXP
"Kobe" refers to cuts of beef from the Tajima breed of Wagyu cattle from Japan; a delicacy due to characteristic marbling and tenderness
In the U.S., we just re-started importing Japanese Wagyu and Kobe beef after many years of a USDA ban.  Due to this, we started breeding our own cattle to produce American Style Kobe/Wagyu Beef
Grill
Steaks
Steaks
Lengua
 
tongue
beef tongue
Braise, Simmer
Not traditional in U.S., used for ethnic foods
Tacos
Medallones de Filete
$289
MXP
filet medallions
filet mignon
Grill, Sauté
filet mignon
medallones de filete con salsa
Milanesa
$107MXP
no direct translation; meat from many cuts that has been pounded out to 1/4-1/2"; often from the round (rear) or chuck (front) of the cow
Milanese-style
Pan-Fry
Breaded, like Schnitzel
Milanesa
Molida, Centro Filete Limpio
$299
MXP
ground tenderloin "clean"
ground tenderloin, although not commonly found in the U.S.
Grill
Hamburgers
Chiles en Nogada, Albondigas
Molida, Estabulada
$99MXP
ground beef from stabled cows
somewhat lesser quality ground beef, such as ground chuck
Grill, Roast
Hamburgers, Meatloaf
Chiles en Nogada, Albondigas
Molida, Premium
$109MXP
premium ground beef
most likely ground sirloin, but no guarantee of where it comes from
Grill
Hamburgers
Chiles en Nogada, Albondigas
Molida, Sonora
$129MXP
"higher quality" ground beef; Superama quality standard, U.S. Meat
supermarket brand ground beef; mostly marketing
Grill
Hamburgers
Chiles en Nogada, Albondigas
Molida, Sterling Silver
$137MXP
"higher quality" ground beef; Superama quality standard, grain fed
supermarket brand ground beef; mostly marketing
Grill
Hamburgers
Chiles en Nogada, Albondigas
New York
$229
MXP
New York
New York Strip; a steak cut from the front portion of the loin (the short loin), like a T-bone without any tenderloin attached
Grill
Steaks
Steaks
Panza
 
belly
tripe (the belly and tripe sold together)
Braise, Simmer
Not traditional in U.S., used for ethnic foods
Panza de Res, Menudo (caldos), Mole de Panza
Pecho Curado
 
Cured Chest, commonly unavailable but you can order "pecho" (brisket) and cure it yourself
Corned Beef Brisket
Braise, Simmer
Corned Beef
Not traditionally used; brisket is normally used for stew so special order it
Picana
$134MXP
a conversion of a Portuguese word; refers to the rump cap which has a large layer of fat
top sirloin cap, between the tenderloin and the top sirloin (opposite the tri-tip)
Grill, Sauté 
Great substitute for Tri-tip once most of the fat is removed
Picaña o Picanha
Porterhouse
 
Porterhouse
Porterhouse; a steak cut from the front portion of the loin (the short loin), with tenderloin attached that is >1.25in/3.2cm
Grill
Steaks
Steaks
Pulpa
 
Boneless Meat
Used widely, but often refers to meat from the round (rear) of the cow
Braise, Stew
Stew
Stew
Ribeye
$294
MXP
Ribeye
Ribeye; a steak cut from underneat the ribs
Grill
Steaks
Steaks
rollo
 
roll
roulade
Grill or Roast
Beef Matambre
Rollos para Asar
Suadero
$96MXP
No direct translation; thin cut of beef from the brisket (or the "breast") of the cow
None; this is a smooth-textured cut whereas brisket in the U.S. always has quite a bit of muscle grain, so it is a specialty of Mexico
Grill
None
Tacos de Suadero
Tapa
 
Round (rear) of the cow
Top Round Roast, Rump Roast
Roast
Rump Roast
Not traditionally used; usually must special order
T-Bone
$112MXP
T-Bone
T-Bone; a steak cut from the front portion of the loin (the short loin), with tenderloin attached that is <1.25in/3.2cm
Grill
Steaks
Steaks
Trozo de Rosbif
 
Large rib; also called costillar
Bone-in Rib Roast
Roast
Standing Rib Roast
Not traditionally used; usually must special order
 







4 comments:

  1. super useful alaina! i'm a vegetarian, which makes these words even more important when i see them on menus!

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    1. Really excited this is serving an additional use for folks...more to come on other types of meat!

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  2. I have been following your articles with interest in the Aztec recently and really enjoy them. Today I had a look at your blog, and I love your writing style! This beef chart - really is a life saver!! I can't tell you how many times I ahve bought the wrong cut of meat! I'm going to print it out and keep it with my grocery bags :)

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    Replies
    1. I'm so thrilled it is going to be useful for you and that you've enjoyed the articles and the blog. I think I'll enjoy reading your blog and trying out some of the recipes, too! :) Everything looks great!

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