What Separates Iberico Pork from Other Varieties?
Iberico cuts are incredibly luxurious. They’re extremely well marbled with a sweet, creamy, nutty fat that melts delightfully and is rich without being too heavy.
Not only is it tastier, but its flavor covers a wider range than other pork, with some cuts tasting like a cross between beef and pork.
Iberico is the best pork I’ve ever worked with. It’s so flavorful! The fat content & flavor makes it very fun to work with because you need to do so little to get a really great dish.
A Better Way to butcher a pig
Spanish & American butchers don’t see the pig the same way. While American butchers simply separate the front leg into the shoulder & the leg, the Spanish see a more nuanced list of cuts within the shoulder.
Why does this matter?
Because Spain produces Iberico pork, which may well be the world’s finest. The differences between this breed & others are particularly noticeable in that trio of special Spanish cuts – the End Loin (Pluma), Shoulder Eye Steak (Presa), and Secreto (a skirt steak-esque cut hidden behind the front leg…the name merely means “secret”).
These three portions are the most highly prized (and priced) parts of the pig in Spain (apart from cured jamon bellota).
We asked our staff Culinarian Liv and Kitchen Assistant Jade to use their expert knowledge from restaurants & culinary school to put them through their paces in the Marx Foods Test Kitchen and get you the best insights.
When You Buy Iberico, What Cuts Do You Cook at Home?
I just don’t buy a lot of meat, but I do buy Iberico. I like to buy the pluma because it’s the smallest & most straightforward of the three cuts, and a good size for cooking for 1 or 2 people. It’s really delicious grilled.- Jade
I buy pluma because I’m one person. I try not to eat the whole thing, but then I don’t want to put the rest away.- Liv
Putting the Pork Through Its Paces
Jade & Liv both agree that the most important rule when working with Iberico is to let it speak for itself. Our recommendation to Iberico first timers is always a simple season & sear with salt…perhaps with a touch of lemon or garlic. Cook it on the grill, in a pan, or sear it & then finish in the oven. Removing it from the heat at Medium Rare* will let its best flavor & tenderness shine. After that, let it rest, slice against the grain, and serve to the adulation of your family, guests, or own tastebuds.
However, the goal of the test session was not merely to explore the differences between these cuts, but to create further accessible recipes as well. With that in mind Liv & Jade set about creating recipes from their respective wheelhouses that were more complex, but still focused on showcasing rather than covering the pork’s succulent deliciousness.
Jade took Spain’s great culinary treasure to Korea with a play on pork bossam made with the Presa shoulder steak. Her bossam featured lettuce wraps served with ginger scallion sauce, black garlic gochujang sauce, grated chile-spiced daikon, pickled garlic, and soy-glazed toasted rice balls.
The results were super tasty – the thinly sliced roast Presa was meaty & robust, standing up easily to the sweet-savory-spiciness of the various condiments. It practically evaporated under the onslaught of hungry staff members [Get The Recipe!].
Liv paired the Secreto and Pluma with more traditionally European flavors. Her first dish took the well marbled, buttery Secreto cut and balanced its richness with pickled shallots & mustard seeds, roast cauliflower, and a white-wine mustard pan sauce [Get The Recipe!]. Her second stuck to Iberico’s Spanish roots with one of her personal favorite sauces: Spanish Romesco – a blend of roast peppers, bread, nuts, pimenton, vinegar, and olive oil [Get The Recipe!].
Roasted brussels sprouts brought additional color & flavor to the plate.
While both were big hits with staff as-is, Liv recommends serving a starch side (artisan bread, roasted potatoes, etc) along with each recipe, in order to turn the dish into a complete meal.
Having prepared the three cuts side by side, their distinct differences in flavor, texture, and applications began to emerge.
The Secreto skirt-steak-esque cut is quick cooking and has a texture that could be described as springy and soft at the same time. Chewing through the layers of fat & meat almost felt like biting into (though this seems like an absurd concept) a pork croissant. Beyond the texture was a ton of buttery, nutty iberico pork fat flavor that everyone loved.
Lots of fat comes off! This cut wouldn’t work very well for a grill pan, but you’d get lots of flare up/good char on a real grill. The secreto wouldn’t work very well for roasting, maybe work for broiling on a broiling rack.
Because it’s so fatty, the Secreto is best super-hot right off the stove.
"The texture of the secreto is insane, it’s so good."
PLUMA END LOIN
The Pluma End Loin cut is very tender, cooks quickly, and has a flavor that’s meaty, but also rich. The pluma is meatier and less rich than the Secreto, more marbled & soft than the Presa.
This cut is easy to sear due to its size and fat content. Good amount of fat comes off (but not as much as the secreto) and it’s best for the pan or grill.
Don’t overcook it! I recommend Medium/Medium Rare. Sear it hard over med high heat, to get a nice crust.
“Iberico pork is one of the easiest things to cook that makes an impression. All you have to do is put it in a skillet with some salt and everybody thinks you’re a super star in the kitchen. If you can cook a steak to medium or medium rare the way you like it, you can cook Iberico.”
PRESA SHOULDER EYE
The Presa Shoulder Eye Steak cut is like a small roast. Its flavor is very meaty rather than super buttery. With less marbling than the other cuts, it remains very tender, but has a texture closer to a steak.
The presa has a tighter grain than the others, and roasts well. I noticed it took longer than I anticipated to roast (given the size).
Of the three cuts, this one can be served at the widest range of temperatures – hot, warm, or even cold. That’s because its less heavily marbled – you don’t need it to be hot for the fat to be delicious. It’s a great choice for dishes like bossam where it’s served around room temperature.
“The Presa is a great, really versatile cut. It has a really great texture – really tender but with a fine grain. It also has lot of good Iberico Pork flavor without being too fatty. You can roast it whole or cut it into steaks. The size works well for groups or just for a (nice) weeknight dinner.”
Hungry for more information?
Here’s a further breakdown:
|Secreto ||Presa ||Pluma |
|English Name||“Skirt-Steak-Like”||Shoulder Eye Steak||End Loin|
|In Brief||Marbled Like Wagyu, Rich Buttery Flavor||Can Slice Thick into Steaks||Most Prized Cut in Spain, Luxuriously Soft Texture|
|Cooks Like||Skirt Steak||Small Roast||Skirt Steak|
|Thickness||Thick in Center, Thin on Ends||Thickest||Thinnest|
|Typical Piece Weight||14-16oz||22-24oz||9-10oz|
|Fat Content||High||High||Very High|
|Location||Behind the Shoulder Joint||Buried in the Shoulder||Shoulder End of the Loin|
Easy to Prepare
- 1. Cook Using Same Techniques & Doneness as Beef!
- a. Sear Secreto & Pluma
- b. Roast Presa, or Slice Into Steaks & Sear
- 2.Slice Against the Grain & Serve!
Note: Our good friends at the USDA recommend cooking all pork to an internal temperature of 145°F, followed by a three minute rest, for safety.