What is it that sets Iberian pork from Spain apart from the rest? Get to know the three key cuts of Ibérico, as we talk to Justin Marx from Marx Foods.
Do you know what makes Ibérico pork from Spain so special and prized above others? In addition to the way it has been reared and fed, it’s in the three key cuts. We talk to Justin Marx of Marx Foods, premium meat importers, about Iberian pork meat and its qualities as a superior meat product.
Why is Ibérico pork considered a gourmet product?
“For me, a specialty protein is anything that is elevated above commodity products, and anything that has a story that you want to tell, rather than a story that you want to hide. Whereas commodity pork is produced in feedlot, with sometimes questionable conditions from a health and animal welfare standpoint, Ibérico pork is much better than that. This is a native black haired pig from Spain, which was originally crossed with wild boar by the Phoenicians, many years ago. It has really heavy marbling and a delicious flavor owing to its free range lifestyle and diet, so it’s clearly superior to any other pork on the market.”
What are the different cuts of Ibérico pork and what are the three we must try?
“The classics and the most famous cuts are pluma, presa and secreto - these are the hardest to keep in stock! They are relatively small cuts that the animal yields little of and they’re the most commonly consumed in the US. One thing to note is that the Iberian pigs are butchered differently to our domestic breeds. You can’t get these cuts from regular white pork because they just don’t fabricate the animals that way. The Ibérico rib cuts are also interesting, along with the tenderloin and the loin cuts, or the collar which is great for braising.”
For further explanation of the three important Spanish cuts of Ibérico pork: Pluma ibérica refers to the triangular part at the back of the spine, with muscle fiber similar to the top part of the jamon. Secreto ibérico is the piece from the end of the flank, characterized by muscle fiber and marbling. Then, finally, the Presa Ibérica, is connected to the shoulder, with plenty of intramuscular fat, defining its juiciness and distinct flavor, which is globally recognized.
What are the benefits of this type of meat?
“The feeding quality is number one as the flavor of the meat produced is unmatched, there is no better pork than Ibérico pork. They are marbled and fatty and because of the pigs’ diet - mainly acorns and food that is foraged - this produces healthy fats in the meat. It is so tasty, there’s nothing like it - Ibérico pork is unique in the world and makes for perfect eating!”
What are the characteristics of Ibérico pork?
“Heavily marbled, delicious pork.” Ibérico pork meat looks darker than regular pork and, thanks to the animals' free range foraging and exercise, they have well-integrated fat that makes the meat melt in your mouth. Additionally, the acorn diet imparts a nuttiness to the flavor.
What tips do you have for cooking Ibérico pork?
“Cook it medium, don’t cook it well done, you don’t want to dry it out as you will lose a lot of the flavor profile of the meat. I can tell you how we cook it in my house - one thing we really like to use is the loin as it’s super versatile. It comes in larger pieces that you can cut it in half or thirds and roast in the oven. We’ll make a roast dinner one night, then the next we’ll cut it into chops and pan sear it. Or, you can cut it into medallions and pound it out and bread it and fry it - that’s something we’ll do pretty often, this also works for the ribeye cut. The pluma, presa and secreto should be cut into portions and seared. Just make sure you don’t cook it past medium!”
And finally, some recipes for Ibérico pork
The Marx Foods website recipe section has a vast array of Spanish-inspired recipes using different cuts of Ibérico pork that will make them the center of the meal, so we picked our first three to try out:
Ibérico Presa Shoulder Steak with Grilled Orange, Peppers and Boquerones in Vinaigrette - Using a fruity and savory blend of red bell peppers with citrus and Spanish anchovies helps to balance and bring out the rich mouthfeel of the Presa Iberica. Although the shoulder cut is synonymous with fiber, this is actually a tender, chewy pork. The dish pairs naturally with a garnacha blanca from DO Terra Alta, due to its floral minerality and citrus notes.
Seared Ibérico Secreto Pork with Romesco Sauce - The secreto cut is found hidden behind the shoulder. It is long and slim, similar to skirt steak and it cooks quickly. Bring out the nuttiness in the flavor with this smoky romesco sauce and top it with marcona almonds. Try it with a cariñena and garnacha red blend from DO Montsant, light-bodied yet earthy and nuanced.
Ibérico Pluma Pork End Loins with Saffron Rice Cakes and Red Pepper Sauce - The pluma cut has a small and uneven shape - like a feather, hence the name - but in Spain this is highly revered, and easy to sear for maximum flavor. Completed with crispy rice flavored with saffron from DOP Azafrán de La Mancha and red pepper sauce, you can bring out the Spanish spices of the dish with a monastrell red grape varietal from DO Jumilla.