Have you ever wondered what, exactly, you are eating when you enjoy a mutton mixiote, a lamb birria, or sheep tacos? What’s the difference? Perhaps you also don’t know that there are different types of chicharrón, or you are flatly surprised by the different cuts of pork. Pork belly or bacon? What’s the difference? Well, keep reading so we can try to enlighten you.
Mutton, ram, sheep, or lamb?
Many Mexican dishes are tied specifically to the type of meat used. But when they all come from the same family of animals, how do you know what’s what? Surely you have heard of them in different dishes and, although we all intuit that they are somehow related, few know that it is the same animal. The ram is the adult male, the sheep the adult female, the lamb is between 1 and 2 years old, and the spring lamb is less than 1 year old. Each one has a different flavor and intensity that affects the final dish. Generally, the younger the animal, the smoother and more delicate the flavor.
Spongey, loaded, pressed
When you have a craving for chicharrón (pork rind), do you ask for chewy meat or do you like it more crunchy and clean? It is important to know that there are three, yes, three types of chicharrón to choose from. The first, the most popular, is known as esponjado (spongey). It is the chicharrón without any meat, simply the dried skin of the pig that is fried in lard until it is crispy, light, and delicious. The second is the chicharrón cargado (loaded), which is made from the jowls, skin, and other parts of the pig, and includes that crunchy layer explained above that is so popular in Mexico, as well as a bit of meat attached to the skin. Finally, there is the chicharrón prensado (pressed), which is made with either loaded or sponged chicharrón and which, once cured, is cut and pressed into blocks. You can find it natural or marinated with different chilies and spices.
Stomach, bacon or belly?
The popularity of pork belly has taken off in recent years, and for good reason: it tastes amazing. But the way some menus name their pork products can be confusing, we may come across pancetta or bacon and then it’s anyone’s guess on what thickness will arrive on our plates. At the end of the day, we are talking about the same cut of meat, the belly of the pork. Now, pork belly is the raw, untreated cut of flesh from the underside of the pig, while the Italian term pancetta refers to the same piece cured in salt and different spices, which is served in thin slices. The bacon, for its part, is the same cut, but smoked and cut to varying thicknesses. These last two, in more distant times, were treated in this way to improve their flavor, but, above all, so that they would last long periods of time without spoiling. And the stomach? Not the same as the belly, but still tasty!
Rib eye, cowboy steak or tomahawk
Steak lovers may be attracted to this thick cut of meat, with its nice marbling and giant bone that protrudes into a tomahawk. But some may prefer the cleaner cut of a cowboy steak with its smaller bone though still with good marbling. Those who want boneless with good marbling and a soft texture will like a rib eye. But guess what? They are the same cut of meat! They all come from the beef rib, and the only difference is that some have bones and others do not. Don’t let them charge you more for the very same thing.