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Monday, October 8, 2012


Jerky Ready for Chewing
Photo by: Lord-Williams
OCast çeçina, Eng. jerky, salted, air dried or sun dried or smoked meat. The Leonese cured meat originated in the village of Cierzo, known to be a cold area but The Archpriest of Hita mentions jerky along with salt pork as common in 14th century when the epoch poem was written.
Anton Montoro in his 15th C work Cancionaro claims that the origin is Jewish as they used it instead of salt pork and ham. The Archpriest of Hita relates that Christians were eating jerky along with salt pork 14th century when the epoch poem was written. 

Jerky is found especially in Astorga and had become one of the most important gastronomic dishes in the entire province of León by the 10th C at least. Then beef jerky was sold in the markets of León. 

It was known as a Jewish item as far south as Cordoba. Actually, jerked meat in southern regions meant salted meat. It is principally from beef and goat. This cured or jerked meat has a molasses color. 

Historically, it is peasant food as the majority of households annually slaughtered a cow and two pigs to make homemade cured meats, including jerky, and for fresh meat as well. It is an ancestral food item of austere populations and known previously as castrated meat (from goat, lamb and/or roe deer). The oldest animals of the herd are fattened during three months in the farmyard for this purpose. They are slaughtered between St. Martin’s Day (November 11th) and the Immaculate Conception (December 8th). 

The meat is cured by placing the pieces in a trough and covering them with salt for 24 hours in order to absorb an adequate amount. Then the salt is brushed off. The meat is then marinated for 24 hours in a mixture of salt, long pepper, wine, garlic, thyme, oregano and nutmeg. Then it is prepared to hang from a kitchen beam or rafter. 

Sas believes that stanza 2255b in the Libro de Alexandre, written between 1178-1250 should read: after the jerked meat was hung, the roots for kindling were brought [in January], i.e. çenisa (ash) is a transcription error for the word should be çeçina. The meat is cured by burning holm oak branches and cabbage stumps in the kitchen fireplace.  With the arrival of spring, people begin to eat the pieces. Instead of such a long smoking process, jerky may be aired for 14 months in the wind on a mountain peak. Lamb jerky is thought to be the most delicious. That of goat is the toughest. Game too was cured in this way. 

Jerky, also, is cured in a similar fashion since time immemorial in the Highlands of Scotland. To be called a “jerk” in León or Scotland, must be a compliment. 

2. an animal designated for jerky during its lifetime. See castrón, cierzo and chivo

[Anón/Huici. 1965:286:164; Bercero/Janer. 1983:271:2255b; Castro. Alimentación. 1996:249; Dialecto. 1947:174; ES: “Cecina de León.” Nov 25, 02; ES: Fortun. Mar 8, 02; ES: Sartori. Oct. 2, 02; ES: Wilson. Jun 9, 02; Montoro/Ciceri. 1991:200-203; Ruíz/Brey. 1965:1093a :177; Sánchez-Albornoz. 2000:34:39; Sas. 1976:130; and Tapiello. 1994:138]


Strips of Beef Drying on a Spit in the Oven
Photo by: Lord-Williams
1 lb rump roast
1 c chickpeas
1 onion
1 tsp coriander seed
1 tsp pepper
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp salt
1 bunch mallow leaves[1]
1 tbsp flour
2 eggs

Remove all fat from the roast. If fat is left the jerky will quickly become rancid. Thinly slice the rump roast. Pound the slices with a pestle in a mortar to make the meat thinner. Then cut each slice into 1/8-1/4” strips. Hang these on a spit. Turn oven on to the lowest temperature. Secure the spit in the oven and let dry for 9-10 hours.

A Heavenly Dish for Jerks
Photo by Lord-Williams
Soak the chickpeas over night.

The next day shed the jerky and put it in a pot. Add the chickpeas. Chop the onion herbs, spices and oil. Cook for about 1 hour or until chickpeas are done. Remove the pot from the heat.

In the meantime, wash the mallow leaves. Strain off the water and finely chop.

Strain the jerky and chickpeas saving the broth in a pot. Heat this adding the flour. When the liquid begins to thicken remove it from the heat and add 2 beaten eggs. Pour this over the jerky and chickpeas blending all together. 

This was a good winter dish prior to the slaughter when only cured meat and fish were available.

[1] Parsley was used as a substitute as mallow could not be found.


  1. Well, I must admit you have surprised me once more with your method of drying the meat, as the usual is doing it in the cold air and not in the hot... pretty much as merengue, at very low temperature. Your recipe is very interesting even if you use fresh meat: it belongs to the tradition of "cocidos", even if its consistency is more solid and the picture reminds me of the "ropa vieja", a dish prepared with the remainder of the cocido (chickpeas and shreded meat, precisely), but the mallow leaves is completely unusual.

    The cecina you can find at the grocer's nowadays looks more like jamón serrano, dark with thin streaks of fat (or no streaks at all). It can be made of cow or horse meat. This late is very appreciated. It is usually cut very thin and eaten the same way as ham, if else with some drops of good quality olive oil over it, and some almonds (a favorite with medieval kitchen as you know!)
    Cecina was, together with bizcocho (biscuit, bread cooked twice to eliminate all the moisture) the usual food of sailors. Dryness was essential to preserve the food, but even so in long travels the meat and the bread could get mouldy and uneatable (but when there was nothing else, they ate it the same...)

    The season of the slaughter, St. Martin, is in the North hemisphere the beggining of the cold station. The proverb "a cada cerdo le llega su san Martín" is used to mean that the hour must come to every one (meaning specially bad people).

  2. The Spanish proverb: 'Each one has his St. Martin,' means to me that we are not immortal. We all must die. - Sad but true.
    I found jerky very expensive in the supermarket.
    As Luis Español criticizes me for not having all ingredients for my recipes there, he will certainly scream when he sees what 1/2 lb of jerky costs at his supermaket! So in his honor I bought machine sliced meat cut as thin as possible, which was cheap, and then sliced that and hung it over my oven with a spit. I cooked it on the lowest heat possible as if I were in a medieval kitchen for a couple of days.
    Granted my results were nothing like smoked jerky over wood fires. I think it not as good as but similar to air dried jerky.

  3. Don't worry, Susan, next time I come to Chile I'll defy every customer officer -dogs included- bringing in my lugage some forbidden substances (as cecina) for you...