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Where's the BEEF?

Can someone please explain to me why it is so impossible to find beef in Spain (or is it just the Barcelona area?). I do not like veal (which is ternera, or vedella depending on spanish or catalan) and it is all we can find. On menus, in the supermarkets, at the butchers. We finally found one place that has beef (carne de vaca), an argentinian delicatessen but that is in the heart of the city and we live north of the city on the coast. Corte Ingles has what I thought was beef (says vacano) but I just looked again and it says ternera. Help!!!

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  1. It is not just Barcelona, Spaniards eat more pork and lesser extend, lamb, then beef. Also ternera is not quite the same as most of the US veal if you've lived there. It is much more mature and more like baby beef. It is raised differently than much of the milk-fed veal. Ternera has a red color than the pale veal that many of us are accustomed to.

    1. In a lot of parts in spain ternera is young beef and ternera lechal is veal

      1. In the Catalan speaking area, I'm much more familiar with Mallorca than the mainland but have never found any problem in buying beef (bou (? sp) - at least in the Mallorcan dialect of Catalan) in butchers, supermarkets or finding it in restaurants.

        Similarly, in Andalucia and the Canaries, my experience is that whilst beef is very common, veal is actually much less so. My experience here is more restaurant based than home cooking.

        I think, perhaps, that cleveland park hits the nail on the head that, in Castilian, ternera is the usual term for beef - that is, say, from a 2 year old beast that, in the UK, we'd slaughter for all our non-veal needs.

        1. Tenera is not exactly the same as veal. Veal, or at least the kind I am more familiar with in the States, is called either Tenera de lechera or blanceta (sp?). Tenera is younger than the beef you get in the States but I'm not sure it the same a veal either.

          I was told by a butcher that the prevalence of tenera is a relatively recent thing in response to mad cow disease. I don't remember the specifics but I believe that by law, cows have to be slaughter by the age of 2 (?). I'm not sure why this does not extend to ox (or bou in catalan or buey in spansih). You can find carne de vaca in Argentine restaurants but I believe they are shipped in from Argentina.

          1. I think it's just a problem of semantics... The terms for food tend to be more precise here. If you like flavorful meat, then what you are looking for is meat from older animals (buey, toro, vaca). The cuts are different here, so you need to experiment a bit to see which you like. Beef is very popular in the north (Castilla, Galicia, Pais Vasco). I find the beef in Spain to be far superior to most of what you can readily get in the US. Lomo or chuletón de buey are the most flavorful cuts, though they can be tough.

            carne vacuna: beef
            Ternera de leche: veal
            Añojo or ternera: 1-2 years old
            Novillo: 2-4 years old
            Buey: castrated male over 4 years old
            Vaca: female over 4 years old
            Toro: uncastrated male over 4 years old

            Another term you might see is cebón, which is a young castrated male under 4 years old, I think.

            9 Replies
            1. re: butterfly

              Thanks for clarifying the terms! You are right about terms being a lot more precise. Before I came to Spain, beef was beef, period. In Spain, I was confronted with all these different new names (plus, in my case, i had to learn them both castillian and catalan!). That's the nice thing about food in Spain--people know where their food, especially meat, comes from! And the meat is so much better than the average meat you find in the States (don't even get me started on my thanksgiving turkey...).

              In shopping for meat in Barcelona, however, I have to say that it is extremely difficult to find novillo or vaca. Tenera is what is most common. Buey is pretty easy to find. I see toro sometimes. But I have never seen carne vacuna, vaca or novillo sold in the market. I wonder why.

              I'll go chit-chat my butcher more tonight in my broken Spanish...

              1. re: mielimato

                Oh my gosh, can you believe the turkey here? Our first Thanksgiving here was last year and we could not believe how amazing the turkey tasted. Tried to explain it to the folks in the States but words can't express it lol.

                1. re: cynthonline

                  That's really interesting. I visit Spain a couple of times a year (as you'll know, it's a popular destination for millions of Brits). I've never even seen turkey - not in a butchers or on a restaurant menu. Is it easy to come by? Is it seasonal - say round Christmas, as it is in the UK? I know it isnt a traditional "feast meat" in Spain but wonder if they are starting to adopt American customs as we have.

                  1. re: Harters

                    No, whole turkeys aren't easy to find and it's not a meat that is commonly eaten here (at least not in Madrid, maybe things are different in the Brit resorts on the coast). But to get one all you have to do is ask at a poultry stall in the market and they can get you one. The chicken here is great, too. And the eggs.

                    One turkey product that you can easily find at any supermarket is jamón de pavo (a low fat alternative for those who can't have regular jamón), though I think the duck variety is better.

                    1. re: butterfly

                      Not common on the coast, either - in my experience.

                      Although I suspect restaurants catering to British tourists would have it on their Christmas Day menu. Not that I'd be eating it out of choice - I find it a very bland meat. We have it at home at Christmas, as do most Brits these days - but only the free range variety (which is very expensive and not worth it in my view - but Mrs H insists on it......).

                      I have a relative who doesnt eat most meats, so won't eat ordinary bacon - but will eat "turkey bacon". It's horrible!!!

                      1. re: Harters

                        Agreed--turkey bacon is an abomination! I'm not much of a turkey fan, either (I count myself lucky that my husband's Thanksgiving and Christmas traditions involve pork!). One good thing about the turkey that I've had here is that it's not dry. The same goes for pork. I guess it has to do with the way that the animmals are fed and raised.

                        1. re: butterfly

                          Ah. Anything porky is good in Spain. I'm particularly fond of lechona in Mallorca (and sobrasada, for that matter). Spanish chefs also seem to have a way cooking thin pork steaks to perfection. When I try I just get dried out meat.

                          Can't wait till September when we're there again for 2 weeks.


                    2. re: Harters

                      Here in Barcelona, turkey is not very popular either. In poultry stalls in the market, you can usually find turkey but not in abundance (turkey plays second fiddle to chicken, duck and rabbit). For whole turkeys, you have to order in advance--a day or two.

                      I made turkey for Thanksgiving last year and let me tell you, it was the best tasting turkey of my life! So incredibly moist, as moist as a well prepared chicken, if not more. I've had expensive organic free range turkeys in the States...and the turkey that I had in BCN beat it by a mile! Plus, the turkey I ordered in BCN wasn't free range. But I suppose since it is not a popular meat, turkeys in Spain are raised in much less industrialized manner.

                      1. re: Harters

                        You don't see turkeys in the shops or markets here, as was stated before you need to order them a day or two ahead. Not sure of the availablity other times of the year, but in November we were able to order one.

                2. I think a clarification needs to be made respect the "buey" meat. In the inmense majority of places, what is sold as "buey" is not real "buey". As "butterfly", very rightly specifies, "buey is a "castrated male over 4 years old".
                  Ther aren´t that many of those around. On the old times (well, maybe not that old) Bueyes were used to pull carts, till the ground, etc. A little like oxen were used in the US. Although there are still, some, not that many are left, so the denomination of "buey" is not that truthful. The meat is stronger, somewhat tougher (this is why they age it) and with a yellow color fat.
                  Price is also quite high, due to the lack of availability.
                  What is called "buey" in most places is nothing more than a "novillo" getting close the the 4 years of age.

                  1. I missed the last part of "Mielimató" question.
                    The reason why you don´t see much "novillo, vaca or carne vacuna" is just a question of economics. The cost of raising an animal for 4 or more years, just for the meat, doesn´t compensate for the expenses, when you include risks like sickness, contamination, death, etc. The cost of the final product would be so high that it would not be worth it.

                    4 Replies
                    1. re: Rafael

                      Thanks! This is all really informative. I think you are right about the "loose" labeling of meats. I was just at the butcher. Upon further questioning she clarified what cuts were actually tenera and what were novillo. I guess novillo is not as uncommon as I thought because all that I ever see labeled is tenera or vedella.

                      So here is another question. What is the standard age in which cows are slaughtered in the States and other countries. Tenera is meat of a cow of 1 to 2 years old. Is that younger than average?

                        1. re: mielimato

                          I think one reason why it might be harder to find in Catalunya is that the there are fewer regional Spanish restaurants (other than Catalán ones, that is). In Madrid, Gallego, Basque, and Castillian asadores are really popular so this kind of meat is easier to find. I think once you get used to seeing what the more flavorful meat looks like, you'll be able to spot it no matter what it's called.Different butchers get different quality beef. At our market (which has at least 6 butchers), I would say there are four levels from nothing special to really excellent.

                          I don't think I've ever seen meat for sale in the US that looks like the good "buey" that I've had here. Where I grew up (next to an angus cattle farm!), the beef was slaughtered when it was about 12-18 months old. The farmer next door kept the meat from the old steers for himself. But I'm not even sure quaint little farms like that exist anymore in the US... God only knows what goes on with feed-lot cattle... I shudder to think.

                          1. re: butterfly

                            Certainly not impossible to find excellent beef in Catalunya - Asador Tierra Aranda in Palma de Mallorca is a favourite place.


                      1. You need to ask for a solomillo de vacuno. That's a big fat piece of beef.

                        I live in Madrid and have never noticed any shortage of beef. Then again, I used to be vegetarian till I moved to Spain and discovered jamón...