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It should be no surprise that Johnny Hernandez, the chef behind El Machito, The Fruteria, and La Gloria, a man so recognized for his mastery of Mexican cuisine that the Obamas invited him to cook for Cinco De Mayo this year, has declared that cecina asada de Yecapixtla is one of his most treasured recipes.
The designation makes sense, as it tends to be that the more talented a chef becomes, the more they esteem subtlety. Their effort goes into paring down recipes, removing nonessential items until they are left with nothing but the naked soul of the dish. After all, making a handful ingredients sing takes more talent than coaxing a tune out of a choir.
In the case of Hernandez, his great achievement is not in creating a new dish, but in reintroducing a classic. Hernandez’ recipe, which borrows from the traditional method popularized in the city of Yecapixtla, requires the meticulously slicing a round of beef back and forth, thinly, from top to bottom, until you are left with a long, unbroken sheet of meat; as Andrew Zimmern discovered, this is difficult. Salt is then applied and the beef rests in the sun for an hour.
The method, which borrows from a tradition more than 200 years old, utilizes the salt to first draw liquid out of the meat, then slowly work its way — via the water — back into the meat, where it then begins destabilizing the deep muscle tissue, resulting in a tender final product. After the salt has done its work, Hernandez splashes the ribbon with olive oil and lets it cook, though indirectly, over a mesquite flame. The result is unglamorous, similar looking to a cutlet in its flat, thin shape, but with a remarkably delicate chew.