Friday, November 9, 2012

Meat in Mexico: Pork

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post on Beef in Mexico.  Many of you let me know how useful it was, and I’m so glad for that.  As I said then, I think the labels here at the Mexican grocery stores can be somewhat confusing, particularly those on the meats.  I am going to continue to help you decipher some of those confusing labels, as well as restaurant menus, and figure out how to enjoy (or avoid, in the case of one of my vegetarian readers!) all the various types of meat available in Mexico.   This week we’ll talk about pork.

What I hope to is give you through this diagram of general cuts shown (downloadable and printable here), as well as the spreadsheet outlining specific labels available below, is an easily accessible, home-cook’s guide to buying pork here in Mexico.  In the spreadsheet you will find the approximate price per kilo for that particular cut, the direct translation to English and the cut’s American Equivalent, suggested cooking methods and traditional American and Mexican dishes using that particular cut.  Hope you find it useful!  If I get something wrong or leave something out, please let me know, either by leaving a comment here or emailing me at 

A couple of things I’ve noticed about Pork in Mexico:
·         Colonial Spaniards introduced pigs to this region and, although it took a while, Mexicans have become extremely fond of this animal, and use every bit of it. You will definitely see parts of the pig being sold here that you would never have imagined seeing in the States.  Definitely try to be adventurous while you have the chance!
·         Other names for pig are “puerco”, “cochino” and “marrano”, and a suckling pig is called a “lechón”.
·         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 available in the normal grocery store like we’re used to in the States, such as Boston Butt.  I have noticed these types of cuts are available sometimes at Costco, or you can ask the butcher at the grocery store to have something cut for you.  Ask for the particular cut “en trozo” and specify how many kilograms you want.  Be aware, you might have to special order these cuts.
·         Most Mexican pork is quite lean, but if you want to be sure all fat is removed, ask for the meat “sin grasa” (without fat) and every last ounce will be removed.   Mexican butchers are meticulous about trimming fat, which will be melted to fry pork rinds and carnitas. The pork rinds are called chicharrones, and the lard itself is manteca.
·         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.  However, they sell a lot of pre-cured pork products at the open-air markets, which I have bought a lot of (even later in the day) and never had a problem.

Here is a list of all the pork labels I have encountered here in Mexico, along with their translations and suggested cooking method.  Click here to download and print this spreadsheet.

COMMON LABELS FOR PORK / CERDO                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 by Alaina Missbach,
Label Price per Kilo Translation American Equivalent Cooking Method Traditional American Dish Traditional Mexican Dish
Alambre $89 MXP "wire" literally, but is generally meat sold along with bacon, onions and green peppers pre-packaged meats with vegetables used for fajitas or stir-fry sauté Fajitas, Stir-fry Tacos
Brocheta $69 MXP (sing.) skewer (plur.) kebabs kebabs Grill shish kabobs Brocheta
Caña de Lomo $96 MXP "cane" of the loin; it is cured pork loin from Iberian acorn-fed pigs cured pork loin ready-to-eat cured meats cured meats
Carne al Pastor $116 MXP meat "shepherd style"; a Mexican derivation of Lebanese schawarma no equivalent as this is sold packaged and seasoned, but you can make it at home yourself using pork shoulder (espadilla) and a dried chile (or chipotle), achiote, and pineapple marinade grilled or roasted None Tacos al Pastor
Cecina $74 MXP "cured" or "smoked" dried, salted meat ready-to-eat perhaps something using salt-pork, like pork and biscuits Aporreado, a regional dish of Guerrero (cecina with eggs and chiles)
Chuleta $74 MXP chops, cut from the back ribs of the rib loin (espinazo) pork chops, de-boned Sauté or Grill Pork Chops and Applesauce Espinazo con Verdolagas (Purslane)
Chuleta Ahumada $68 MXP smoked chops, easier to find and more readily used than fresh chops smoked pork chops Sauté or Roast Less commonly found in the States, but can be used in any way you would use fresh chops Chuletas de Puerco con Chile Verde
Chuleta con Hueso $68 MXP chops with bones bone-in pork chops Sauté or Grill Same as pork chops without the bone, although the bone generally attributes more flavor and the meat is less likely to become dry
Chuleta Korubata $425 MXP chops from the "Korubata" pig chops from Berkshire pigs, or "Kurobata" pigs from Japan Sauté or Grill, or Braise due to high fat content Same as other pork chops, but with minimal seasoning due to the pig's prized natural flavor and juiciness
Chuletón Sin Hueso $64 MXP "steak" without bone A pork "chop" from the loin of the pig Sauté or Grill Same as any pork chops, but while meat from the loin is more tender it is less flavorful
Codillo $45 MXP "knee" or hock ham hock; usually smoked used for flavoring Braise Split-Pea Soup Guisados or Sopas
Cortadillo $69 MXP Small pieces of pork cut to use in a dish called "cortadillo" None Braise None Cortadillo Norteño
Costilla $79 MXP "Rib"; cross-cut ribs with small bone pieces None Grill None Served grilled with Salsa
Costilla Babyback $90 MXP Babyback Ribs Babyback Ribs Grill Babyback Ribs Not traditional.
Espinazo de Cerdo $82 MXP "Spine" or "Backbone" of Pig; a  cut from the rib loin None Braise None Espinazo con Verdolagas (Purslane)
Hamburguesa Desayuno $105 MXP Breakfast Hamburger Breakfast Sausage Sauté or Grill Breakfast Sausage Not traditional.
Lomo Mariposa $99 MXP Butterflied Loin Butterflied Loin Roast Roasted Pork (great for stuffing) Roasted Pork
Manteca $35MXP Fat lard (rendered pig fat) Used as a replacement for fat (oil, butter, etc.) in cooking for better flavor Can be used to fry/Sauté anything Very popular, used in many many dishes (Refried Beans wouldn't be the same without it!)
Milanesa $79 MXP no direct translation; meat from many cuts that has been pounded out to 1/4-1/2" Milanese-style Pan-Fry Breaded, like Schnitzel Milanesa
Molida $70 MXP Ground Ground pork Roast Meatloaf, Meatballs, etc. (excellent when mixed with beef to add dimensions of flavor) Same, mix with beef for Albondigas, etc.
Molida Mixta $86 MXP Mixed Ground Mixed package of Ground Beef and Ground Pork Roast Meatloaf, Meatballs, etc. (excellent when mixed with beef to add dimensions of flavor) Same, mix with beef for Albondigas, etc.
Pierna   Leg Leg of Pork (or "ham", but fresh, not cured) Braise Roasted Pork or BBQ Pork Cochinita Pibil (from the Yucatan)
Pulpa $64 MXP "boneless meat", usually large pieces of meat Stewing meat Braise Stew Guisados like Pozole
Pulpa Pernil $74 MXP boneless meat from the leg Stewing meat Braise Stew Guisados like Pozole
Salchicha, Chorizo $48MXP Chorizo Sausage Chorizo (usually cured, but available fresh); Spanish-style are made with pimenton (Spanish paprika), while Mexican chorizo is made with chiles, making it spicier When cured, eat raw just reheat; when fresh, Sauté or grill Often used to make traditional Valencian paella,             Chorizo con Papas, etc. Tacos, Queso Fundido, tortas, etc. or             Chorizo con Huevos, Choriqueso, etc.
Salchicha, Chorizo Verde   Green Chorizo Sausage, a specialty of Toluca made with tomatillo, cilantro, chiles and garlic None Sauté or Grill None Same as regular chorizo
Salchicha, Longaniza $48 MXP Longaniza Sausage Longaniza, another Spanish-style cured sausage with its own distinctive flavor due to the use of black pepper and nutmeg; usually made quite spicy in Mexico Eat raw or just reheat Can be used to replace linguica in any recipe, which is a Portuguese sausage popular in the U.S. (Beware, though, that longaniza is probably spicier than your typical linguica.) Tacos, etc.
As you've probably noticed, there are MANY types of sausages available--both fresh and cured.  Just as in any other part of the world, each sausage is unique in the mixture of meat(s) used, as well as other ingredients and particularly spices.  Don't be afraid to try a few to see which flavor you like best!  Remember, the vast majority of sausages are made from pork and, in Mexico, many are spicy.  Also, cured sausages are usually hard to the touch and stored outside of the refrigerator section in the store while fresh sausages are the opposite, but these guidelines don't always hold true.  If you're not sure, ask the grocer or always cook your sausage to an internal temp of 165°F.
Tocino Rebarado $88 MXP Sliced Bacon Bacon Fry The possibilities are endless! Less often used in Mexican cuisine

Finally, here’s a great recipe for Tacos al Pastor, which uses the pork shoulder (or “espaldilla”).  You can ask for the cut using this term, or just ask your butcher for meat to make puerco al pastor.

 Tacos al Pastor
Recipe courtesy of
Makes enough for 20 tacos, serving 4-5 people
·         3½ oz achiote paste
·         3 canned chipotle chiles en adobo, plus 4 Tbsp adobo sauce
·         ¼ C vegetable or olive oil, plus a little more for the onion and pineapple
·          1½ lb (~.7kg) thin-sliced pork shoulder ( ¼” thick is ideal)
·         1 medium red onion, sliced ¼” thick
·         Kosher Salt
·         ¼ of a medium pineapple, sliced into ¼” thick rounds
·         20 warm corn tortillas
·         About 1½ cups raw tomatillo salsa ("green", made from "tomates", as they call them here in Mexico!)
1.       Combine achiote paste, chiles, adobo sauce, oil and ¾ C water.  Blend or food process until smooth.  Use 1/3 of the marinate to smear over both sides of each piece of meat.  Cover and refrigerate for at least an hour.  (Refrigerate or freeze the remaining marinade for another use.)
2.       Heat your charcoal or gas grill to high temperature.  If using coals, bank them to one side to create a hot zone and a cooler zone.  If using gas, turn down one zone of your grill to low heat.  (See my blog post on Grilling for more information.)
3.       Brush both sides of the onions with oil and sprinkle with salt.  Lay in a single layer on the hot side of the grill.  After about a minute, when richly browned, flip and brown the other side to the cooler side of the grill until soft and sweet.  Oil and grill the pineapple in the same manner.
Grill the meat in batches, allowing about a minute per side.  Transfer to a cutting board and chop into pieces.  Scoop into a skillet and set over the grill to keep the meat warm.  Chop the onion and the pineapple as well, add to the skillet and toss everything together.  Taste and season with more salt if needed.  Serve with tortillas and salsa.

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