Basturma is a highly seasoned, air-dried, cured meat. It is traditionally made in Armenian, Turkish and Russian cultures. It’s usually made from beef, but was once made from camel meat. It’s cured, dried and coated with a highly spiced mixture called Chemen. Bacterial growth is prevented because the meat is dry cured with salt, and because fenugreek is a key ingredient in the paste. Fenugreek and garlic have antibacterial properties and fenugreek acts as a natural insect repellant.
It takes at least 5-6 weeks to cure, so make sure you make it in advance to when you will need it. Making Basturma at home does involve a few steps over a number of weeks, but if you can persevere it will definitely be worth it!
1.5 kg camel porterhouse 4-5cm thick
½ cup sea salt
For the paste/chemen
¼ cup ground paprika
¼ cup ground fenugreek seed
1 tbsp. all spice
1 tsp. sea salt
1 ½ tsp. black pepper
1 tsp. cumin
½ tsp. cayenne pepper
5 cloves garlic, crushed & finely minced
1 cup cold water
Note – If you’re unable to get camel meat you can substitute with any lean beef whole muscle pieces that you my have; topside and eye of round girello cuts would make good substitutes.
As always when working with food, make sure you have a nice clean work area. You don’t want to be getting anyone sick 🤒
Pat the meat dry with paper towels and tidy up your chosen cut to remove any silver skin, as well as any pieces hanging off the meat. This particular cut of meat is really good as it’s a nice, solid, lean piece and will maintain a nice shape
Pierce the meat all over using a fork. This will allow the sea salt to penetrate the meat.
Place the meat into a deep glass or ceramic dish and rub the sea salt into the meat, especially into all of the the cuts and folds. This will generally take a couple of minutes to do.
Make sure that the entire piece is completely covered in sea salt (roughly ¼ cup of sea salt each side).
Place a heavy item on top of the meat to flatten it down and help distribute the cure evenly. I usually use several water bottles for weight and you can do the same or utilize items from your pantry such as jars or cans. Take the items you will be using as a weight and place it on top of a chopping board (you can put the board inside a Ziploc bag to protect it), put the board and weight on top of the meat, and then place the dish in a refrigerator for three days.
Over the next 3 days, turn the meat daily to keep it coated in salt and drain off any liquid that has been released.
On the fourth day rinse the meat thoroughly under cold running water to remove any excess salt, and then soak the meat in cold water for at least 1 hour during this time. I changed the water twice as I like to leave mine soaking a little bit longer.
Drain the water from the meat and then pat it dry with paper towels to remove any remaining moisture.
Place the meat on top of a cheesecloth.
Wrap the meat in the cheesecloth and hang it in a cool, ventilated area for the next 2 weeks to dry.
After the 2 weeks are up combine all the paste ingredients in a bowl.
Gradually stir in the water a little at a time to incorporate all the ingredients uniformly in order to form a smooth, thin paste.
This mixture can be made several weeks ahead of time as the longer it stays, the better the flavours will marinate together.
Ultimately the mixture is at its best when it attains the consistency of cake batter.
The Chemen can be made in advance and kept in a fridge until it is needed, once again the longer the mixture sits, the better the flavours will mix. I have heard of it being frozen until required, although I haven’t tried this. The Chemen paste can be doubled and tripled depending on the amount you require to cover the meat. Using a spatula or butter knife (as I did) cover the meat all over with a thick layer of the Chemen paste (you will need to hold the meat upright while you apply the paste).
Wrap the meat back in clean cheesecloth and hang it in a cool dry place for another 2-3 weeks to dry.
After drying the Basturma is ready to eat. It is best served thinly sliced and has a texture of prosciutto or bresaola. Traditionally Basturma is eaten just like this, without cooking, but it can also be cooked with eggs and to make sandwiches. It makes a delicious and healthy snack and is also served as an appetizer at parties and social functions.
To store the Basturma keep it in a cool, dry place or in the refrigerator; but honestly this tastes so good it won’t last long!