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Wonderful, magical Iberico pork

secreto_2_-_anthony_mair.jpg

Anthony Mair

The coveted "Secreto" cut of Iberico pork at Jaleo in The Cosmopolitan

You might recall the episode of The Simpsons where Lisa explains to Homer that ham, bacon and pork chops all come from the same creature. “Right, Lisa, some wonderful, magical animal.” The words of a donut-huffing vulgarian may not seem to suit the epicurean environs of Jaleo, but there is no other way to describe the legendary Ibérico Bellota pig, who roam the oak-dotted fields of Spain and Portugal, getting fat on acorns. The Ibérico is less served than celebrated with six different cuts on the menu, each with its own unique flavor and texture.

The carrilleras are braised cheeks that are almost like short ribs, with a falling-apart texture and rich flavor that combines sweetness and earthiness — the latter heightened by the mushrooms it’s served with. On the other end, the Lomo is a loin cut that is seared and served with an apple-mustard sauce, two flavors that are traditionally paired with pork but here with a fresh, rustic finish that’s miles beyond the blend of applesauce and hot-dog topping your mom used. The dish has a sweetly mellow flavor that feels like fall-winter while leaning toward pork white-meat side. More steak-like is the is the Solomillo, a grilled tenderloin, while the Secreto is so-called because it was the piece that butchers used to squirrel (or pig, one supposes in this case) away for themselves. A shoulder cut, it has a slightly nutty flavor with streaks of fat that practically melt on your tongue. There is the spicy Presa and the thin-yet-marbled Pluma cut is serviced with escalivada, a sort of vegetable compote with a roasted, slightly vinegary taste that cuts through the richness of the meat. Each dish gets its own accompaniment, specifically chosen to accentuate the flavor and texture of the pork it comes alongside.

Jaleo is the only place in the nation where you can sample all six cuts of the black-footed porcine wonder. Head Chef Luis Montesinos says that he “became obsessed with the legendary jamón five years ago after enjoying lunch at Fermín, one of the most celebrated producers of Jamón Ibérico de Bellota” and has long wanted to “share the unique taste of Salamanca” at Jaleo.

While the restaurant’s paella pit may draw attention with its flaring flames and clattering pans, the long marble counter swiftly and serenely plating an array of meats and cheeses is at Jaleo’s center — and never more so than when bringing the magic of the Ibérico to the table.

In The Cosmopolitan, cosmopolitan.com

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