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What Is Carne Seca?

Carne seca is a delectable form of dried, seasoned beef, often found in Latin American cuisine. Its rich, concentrated flavor and tender texture come from the careful process of air-drying and marinating. This traditional delicacy is not just a snack but a versatile ingredient. Curious about how it can elevate your meals? Let's explore the culinary possibilities together.
Eugene P.
Eugene P.

Carne seca is a Spanish dried meat dish that is served in a number of countries and can be prepared in a variety of ways. Unlike most dried jerky, carne seca is marinated or boiled in liquid before it is eventually dried. Some recipes dry the meat first before adding it to a pot full of liquid, where it is cooked for some time until it has dried out again. Other preparations simply marinade the meat and then dry it in a more traditional style. The finished carne seca is used shredded or ground and forms the base for other types of dishes, including machaca.

In the large majority of recipes, beef is the meat used to make carne seca, although there are goat and pork versions. Nearly any cut of meat — bone in or out — can be used because, near the end of cooking, the meat is shredded and any large pieces of fat, tendon or bone are removed before it is served. Some recipes call for the meat to be at room temperature before starting the cooking process.

Woman baking cookies
Woman baking cookies

A common way to prepare carne seca is to start by marinating the meat in a refrigerator overnight. The marinade typically consists of vinegar, oil, cumin, onion and garlic. Depending on the taste desired, ingredients such as hot chili peppers or limes also can be added.

After several hours in the marinade, the meat is dried off and placed in a pot of boiling water, where it is cooked until very tender. Alternately, the meat can be boiled in the water with the marinade spices, removing the need to marinade the meat overnight. Once the meat has become very tender, it is removed from the pot and allowed to cool. All of the meat is pulled apart until it is roughly shredded into small pieces and devoid of large chunks of fat, tendon and bone.

The shredded meat is then dried to complete the carne seca. This can be done slowly in an oven or it can be performed in a smoker or outdoors, if the conditions are correct. In some recipes, the meat is only dried a small amount, after which it is placed in a heavy skillet, covered with water and then cooked until all of the liquid has dissipated and the meat dries out again.

Carne seca can be used as a shredded meat filling for tacos, or it can be used as an ingredient in more complex dishes. It can be fried with tomatoes and chilies to make a stew-like dish known as machaca. Most of the time, larger dishes that use carne seca reconstitute the meat in some type of liquid rather than use it dry.

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