Much has been written about cured Spanish hams (Jamón Ibérico), but the Spanish pork belly just doesn’t get enough print in my humble opinion.
There are four things you should know about the Spanish pigs that make them very different from the pigs in the United States – hence the pork is different.
The pata negra pigs are free range.
The pata negra pig is raised in free ranging, large paddocks. They walk a lot and climb up and down hills looking for food. So the pigs muscles develop quite well, there is less fat and what fat there is tightly wound between the muscles.
The pata negra pigs eat acorns, primarily.
The Pata Negra (or Black Iberian pig) is the only breed of pig that naturally seeks and eats mainly acorns. Don’t ask me why, but the pigs in southern Spain like acorns! They congregate under oak trees snuffling about looking for acorns. Munch, munch munch! An interesting fact is that the agricultural land value is based in an important part, on the number of oak trees that are on the property. Of course, it makes sense, the more oak trees, the more acorns and the more pata negra pigs happily runny around.
The muscles around the belly cavity provide some of the tastiest pork dishes you can imagine.
Arriving to Spain, I did not know many of the dishes I would find at the sidewalk cafes. After tasting “secreto”, I asked a friend where the cut of meat it was from and he said the belly. After tasting “prensa”, I again asked a friend, and he said the belly? Another favorite in Andalusia es “pork cheeks”. I think the secret of these cuts is the fact that the fat is tightly woven between the meat.
Typically, the pork belly cuts are cooked with nothing but salt and maybe a little extra virgin olive oil. Nothing fancy, but the taste is wonderful.
Simplicity is the name of the game. The pata negra pork meat does not need spices or seasoning. Much like nothing touches a good, corn fed beef steak, nothing can touch the flavors of secreto iberico, prensa or plumilla cooked just right on the barby with a little salt and extra virgin olive oil. I highly recommend “Cold Pressed Elixir” by GringoCool, if you are looking for a top quality, Spanish, organic extra virgin olive oil.
There are a lot of wonderful Spanish pata negra dishes. Solomillo, ribs, and of course the cured hams that can be cut up and used for cooking also. But honestly, some of the best Saturday afternoon meals I have had, has been eating secreto and prensa. I highly recommend them.
While I have lived in Spain for eight years, I do not profess to be an expert on pata negra. I am only a happy consumer. I just thought I would share a couple of reflections of what I have learned.
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Thanks so much for reading. – Steve