A Guide to Spanish Cured Meats

May 22, 2011

If you walk into any Spanish eatery, whether a small cafeteria or an upscale restaurant, you will undoubtedly find one thing on the menu - a plethora of Spanish cured meats.  In Spain, the pig rules the culinary kingdom.   Most of the cured meats you consume, enjoy, experience are pork based.  Pork has been part of the Spanish diet for thousands of years, with written references to dry-cured ham dating back to the Roman Empire.  So if you would like to understand Spanish cured meats a little better, read on.

Embutidos - the general term for cured meat

Chorizo (featured at top) - A cured sausage made from pork meat and fat, seasoned with paprika (pimento) and salt.  Its most distinctive quality is its deep red color given by the paprika.  Chorizo can be classified as spicy (picante) or sweet (dulce) depending on the kind of paprika used.  There are several Spanish regional varieties that may be smoked or unsmoked with a myriad of aromatic ingredients.  Chorizo can be eaten as is, fried, or poached. I recommend buying one and simmering it in cider (sidra) as it’s done in Galicia.

Salchichón - A dry cured pork sausage similar to the Spanish chorizo, but omitting the paprika and replacing it with black pepper.

Lomo Embuchado (below on right)- A cured meat made from the pork loin that is marinated in herbs and spices and then air dried.  There is very little fat compared to other cured meats.

Morcilla - A highly flavored blood sausage made with a variety of ingredients depending on the region.  The morcilla de Burgos, the most famous, is seasoned with rice, onions, and salt.  A sweet morcilla from Galicia contains almonds and raisins and is commonly served as a dessert.

Jamón Serrano - A dry-cured Spanish ham that has been aged from 9 to 15 months.   Jamón Serrano is usually served raw in very thin slices and is enjoyed by the Spanish for breakfast, lunch, dinner or a snack.  High quality hams are recognizable by a label from the Consorcio del Jamón Serrano Español.  This means that the hams have passed a series of quality standards and a Traditional Specialty Guaranteed (T.S.G.) Serrano ham certification. 

Jamón Iberíco - The champion of all Spanish cured meats, Jamón Iberíco enjoys royal status in the Iberian Peninsula and throughout the world.  The jamón is usually cured between 2 to 4 years, allowing for the development of a symphony of flavors.  Most notable, is the marvelous marbling of fat throughout each piece of meat that begins to melt the instant it touches your tongue.  The Jamón Iber í co de Bellota is protected by the P.G.S. throughout several regions in Spain such as Extremadura and Huelva.