On many occasions I’ve referred to the Greek eating experience as being centered around many sample plates of foods that are shared over drinks, conversation among family and friends. Greek cuisine has alot of appetizers, usually simply prepared but the array is great and the diversity even more so.
One facet of Greek appetizers or “the meze” is the use of delicatessen meats. I remember when I was young and my mom would prepare for an entire week to prepare mezedes for the onslaught of family and friends who would drop by our house on the occasion of my father’s nameday, St. Nicholas.
It’s very common to see salami and other cold cuts on offer at a buffet table or as part of an array of appetizers like cheeses, bread, toursi (pickled vegetables) and the usual dips (like Tzatziki).
There’s Kavourma from northern Greece, the Cretan delicacy of Apaki, Louza from the Cycladic Islands, Siglino from down south Mani way and today’s feature, Pastourma.
From my readings, Pastourma comes from Armenian cuisine but it’s widely enjoyed by Turks, some Arab countries and of course, Greece.
Pastourma made it’s way to Greece through the migration of Greeks who once resided in Constantinople and Asia Minor. Some of the best Pastourma I had was when I visited Istanbul (Constantinople) a couple of years ago.
The Greeks of Asia Minor have left a permanent stamp on Greek cuisine and as many would agree, our cuisine is richer for it.
What’s Pastourma? It’s the grand-daddy of Pastrami. It used to be cured by frontier horsemen who would carry a type of Pastourma in their saddles during their long treks away from home. In essence, it’s a beef jerky but now will get into the nitty-gritty.
Pastourma, it is said was once made of camel meat but that could be either urban legend or a fact of days of yore. Today’s Pastourma is mostly made from different cuts of beef. For this recipe, I used an inside round cut of beef…lean, no silverskin and ideal size for some who wants to enjoy it with family and friends.
Pastourma takes about a month to salt cure and dry age to perfection. From my research, there are some quick-cure recipes out there but it appears the slow method garners the best results.
Pastourma is not for everybody. The crust is known as “tsimeni” or “trigonela” and it’s a paste that contains garlic and spices, the predominant one being fenugreek.
Personally, I love the aroma, the taste of Pastourma. For those not in the know, fenugreek is a spice used heavily in Orient and it’s derived from Methi leaves, which my Indian friends will attest to using in their dishes quite often.
Pastourma is best when it’s sliced thinly, it has that texture of prosciutto or bresaola, very tender and buttery kind of experience. In it’s rawest presentation, it’s served thinly sliced on a plate with some bread and cheese and washed back with an Ouzo or Tsipouro aperitif. I’ve also found dry Greek reds to pair well with Pastourma.
Pastourma also makes for a wonderful omelet, which often is served as a dinner option for those late night Greek meals.
The most famous use of Pastourma has to be Caesaria Pie, which contains a filling of pastourma slices, Kasseri chese and often tomato.
Pastourma can be found at Middle Eastern markets, some Greek food marts sell it, Armenian and Turkish patronized stores will also certainly carry it. If you’re in a city or town that is nowhere near any of these stores, no worries….the home version is here.
Once again, my core belief in food is sharing and I’ve held no recipe back and nor will I ever. I present to you Pastourma, the home-cured version…enjoy!
(recipe adapted from Mark Marcarian)
33 days preparation
1 piece of inside round beef (about 2 lbs)
approx. 1/4 cup sea salt (granulated)
3 Tbsp. of ground fenugreek
1/2 tsp. red pepper (cayenne)
1/2 tsp. of salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1/2 Tbsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. ground allspice
3-4 cloves of minced garlic
approx. 1 cup of water
- Ask your butcher for an inside round cut of beef, lean and no silverskin. Rinse and pat-dry your meat and place in a container that will fit in your fridge. Using an upholstery needle, thread some butcher’s twine through one end of the meat and tie a knot so that you may later hang the meat for curing.
- Cover the the entire area of meat with sea salt and place in your vessel. Cover with plastic wrap and use either a brick or 2-3 cans of tomatoes to weigh/press down on the meat. Place in the fridge for 3 days and turn once each day.
- Upon completion of day 3, rinse the meat of the salt in cold water and allow it to then soak in cold water for an hour. Allow the water to drain off the meat (30 minutes) and press between some cloth towels to remove any remaining moisture.
- Wrap the meat with one layer of cheesecloth and hang in a cool, airy place to dry for 2 weeks. My Pastourma was hung to dry in a cool, dry cellar that was 15-18C and humidity of about 60-65%. Check on your Pastourma from time to time, you might get a slight foul smell but that’s okay…change the cheesecloth ( I did 3 times).
- After 2 weeks, remove the cheesecloth and rinse and pat dry. Now mix all the ingredients (except the water) for the Tsimeni in a large bowl. Slowly add the water a bit at a time while you mix the ingredients until a thick, gloopy paste has formed. You’ll use anywhere between 1/2 to almost 1 cup of water (the Tsimeni should be thick so that it adheres to the meat).
- Put on some gloves and slather the meat with your Tsimeni mixture. Take your Tsimeni-coated meat back to where you hung the meat and allow to cure for another 2 weeks. If you like (optional) the wet finish to Pastourma, you can make some extra Tsimeni and rub it all over the outside.
- After a total of approx. 33 days, your Pastourma is ready to be eaten. Cut the Pastourma in half and slice thinly against the grain from the inside towards the outer, tapering end of the meat. You may also refrigerate or freeze your Pastourma for future use. Wrap well in plastic wrap and that for 5 minutes to soften and go on and slice what you need before placing back in the freezer.
- Serve thin slices at room temperature as part of an appetizer plate with some cheese, some bread and an aperitif like Ouzo or a dry Greek red wine.
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