I used to eat this all the time growing up and loved it sliced raw, or cooked with eggs. But I never had homemade.
When I started to make my own as an adult, my mother said to me I take after my grandfather who used to always have a pastirma hanging in the kitchen.
I have spent a fair bit of time reading and practising charcuterie, so I was experienced somewhat with other meats when I first tried this, and it came out amazing. I’ve since made it many times with variations. When I first started, I examined various recipes online, and took the best from each, and made my own version. Here it is:
Pastirma is made with beef. Charcuterie in general is really best made with pork, but as this is originally a Turkish dish, and they don’t eat pork, they perfected beef charcuterie. I like a little fat in my meat so I select the Ribeye/Scotch fillet, but porterhouse works well too.
This piece was more than I needed, so I cut a few steaks off the end for dinner, and another slab to dry-age for 40 to 60 days (guide coming soon), and the rest for pastirma.
For Aging in a bar fridge. (Salt is to regulate humidity)
And the steaks, just to show off a little…
Salting is how the meat is preserved and why it can be eaten raw. Salt draws out moisture; the lack of water and saltiness prevents the meat from spoiling.
You may have heard of botulinum toxin, which is a poison that comes from the bacteria Clostridium botulinum. This is deadly, which is why many cured meat products are treated with sodium nitrites (gives meat a pink tinge), which prevents the growth of Clostridium botulinum. We don’t need this for pastirma. This is because Clostridium botulinum, although it can grow in salty conditions, can’t grow in the presence of oxygen, so it can’t grow on the surface of your meat (where there is oxygen). It also can’t grow internally (where there is no oxygen) – because it can’t get in. This is very different to a cured salami, where potentially contaminated meat is mixed and sealed inside the sausage, devoid of oxygen, where the bacteria can grow.
You need to choose a pan, something that will fit your meat in one piece and has raised edges so water and salt doesn’t spill everywhere; and a second utensil to place on top and carry something heavy…
Then liberally salt on all sides. Massage it in a bit. You can’t use too much, and cheap salt will do.
Then place a weight on top, and raise one end of the pan so water pools to one side. The weight helps to speed up the water extraction. A couple of kgs would do. I was a bit under that weight for this photo, but I later rectified it. I use my bucket of salt as my weight because it’s convenient – I’ll need it on most days when I check on the meat to flip it and re-salt exposed parts.
It doesn’t take long for water to pool at one end. I drain this water daily, and sometimes flip the meat. Water pulls away some salt from the meat surface, so make sure to re-apply on both sides and the edges.
After 10 days or so, or when water stops collecting, take out the meat, wash off the salt, and place it in a food-grade bucket and fill it with water. Change the water 4 times in 24 hours. How many times you change the water will affect the final saltiness. It might seem counterintuitive to bath the meat now after we just dried it, but that initial process got water out AND salt in. It also compressed the meat. This bathing will draw out some of the salt, but not much water will enter.
The meat will now dry, hanging for 2 weeks before we spice it.
Take out the meat and get a few stainless steel meat hooks to pierce the top (you can buy them online) – I hold them over a flame to sterilise them, then drop them in clean water before using. Then hang the meat somewhere cool and dry. This thing is quite forgiving, but ideal conditions are – around 15 to 17 degrees C, 70% humidity, and some air circulation.
I keep the meat in my cellar with the exhaust fan running. It hangs on a clothes rack, and a pan sits below to catch drops of meaty juice.
The spice paste to cover the meat is called chemen, and I’ve seen variations. It often calls for a red food dye to give a final pleasing colour, but I don’t add it; I like to let the natural colour of the paprika do the talking.
You should prepare the spice paste 1 day before spicing the meat and then refridgerate it for 24 hours. This gives time for the dry spices to absorb moisture and allows you to regulate more accurately how much water to add.
Recipe for chemen (the measurements happen to be precise, but you don’t have to be precise)
- 90g paprika
- 132g ground fenugreek seeds (don’t toast them first – I tried, it becomes bitter. Do grind yourself)
- 9g allspice
- 3 tsp salt
- 4 tsp ground black pepper
- 3 tsp cumin (you can toast seeds first before you grind if you’re feeling fancy)
- Optional ½ tsp cayenne pepper (I prefer without)
- 9 cloves garlic finely minced
- Water (see below)
The amount of water to add varies with exactly how much the dry ingredients soak up. My initial recipe I used had 1.5 cups of water but it wasn’t enough. Needed much more. I got the consistency in the video below, but after a day of refrigeration, the mixture becomes thick and dry and you’ll need to add more water and whisk again to get the consistency right for smearing on the meat.
2nd day, a mushy paste ready for smearing. It shouldn’t drip from an upside-down spoon
This bit is messy. Wear an apron – chemen will fly everywhere. Paprika stains. Wear gloves if you want, but it reduces dexterity.
You can either smear the meat where it’s hanging, or bring it into the kitchen, smear it there, and carry it to its drying place all spiced up. I don’t know how to advise the cleanest way to do it, it’s a huge mess and I’m still learning.
Try to cover all the bits of meat. To get a sexy shiny finish, wet your hands and give it a final rub down.
The final hang
Wherever you decide to hang this, it’s going to smell. I really like the smell but it can be intense.
Make sure to put a pan below to catch dripping juice and any chemen. After a while, it will dry and there’ll be no further dripping.
It will probably be ready in a month or two.
Ready to eat?
The scientific way to tell if it’s ready to eat is to measure a 30% water loss by weight from pre-salted meat to final product (This is the general rule for charcuterie). Adding chemen confuses this measurement, and so does the 24-hour soak. I don’t bother. After a month I give it a try. It takes months to eat anyway and it continues to dry in that time (I bring it down, slice, and put it back to hang).
You’ll notice sometimes there is white mould growing on the surface. That’s quite normal, and you can wipe it off. White mould is not harmful. Other colours can be, so don’t take chances. This includes green. Sometimes you get green bits growing on the white mould. Most of the time, this is the white mould fruiting; it happens if your conditions are extra humid. This doesn’t count as unsafe mould, but if you’re not sure, don’t take the chance.
The first time I made this I used my favourite knife to slice. I’m pretty handy with a knife and got it quite thin, but not thin enough. I later got a proper food slicer that gives very satisfying see-through paper-thin slices which is my preferred thickness.
HOW to eat
A popular way to eat this is raw or fried with eggs.
I tried this with smoked paprika once instead of regular paprika and it was magical. It was nothing like normal pastirma, but very interesting.
I also tried a lamb meat version which was very lamby. Beef is way better.
Yeah, because of the chemen, your BO will have a tinge of chemenyness to it. Enjoy.
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