Basturma is an air-cured dried beef which is very popular in Armenia. It is like a spicier version of the Italian bresaola or the Spanish cecina.
I spotted recipes for how to make it in Saveur.com and in the cookbook Lavash, and decided to make a batch. It was relatively easy and fun to make. This is a winter project, since it is easiest if there is a cool and airy place for the meat to dry, although it is also possible to do it in a refrigerator. I started in late February, and hung the meat in the back of the garage, at a time when the temperature there was typically in the upper 50s or low 60s. The objective is for the temperature to stay below 70 degrees.
I made this following the instructions in Saveur.com, although I had to make some modifications as explained below.
4 lb. eye of round roast
1 lb. kosher salt
½ cup ground fenugreek
½ cup sweet paprika
1 Tbs. ground allspice
1 Tbs. freshly ground black pepper
2 tsp. cayenne pepper
2 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. kosher salt
8 large garlic cloves
1 cup water, divided
Cut the meat in half lengthwise into two thinner pieces. Poke holes all over the meat so that the salt can penetrate easily. Put about half of the salt in the bottom of a 13 x 9 inch glass lasagna pan and place the meat in a single layer on top of the salt bed. Sprinkle the rest of the salt on top of the meat. Cover the pan with plastic wrap and refrigerate it for 2 days. Here is what the meat will look like after 2 days.
Wash off the salt and soak the meat in a large bowl of cold water for 1 to 3 hours to draw off any excess salt. Dry the meat thoroughly with paper towels and place it on a large rimmed baking sheet in a single layer. Put another baking sheet on top and weigh down the top sheet with some heavy cans of food, like tomatoes. Refrigerate the meat for at least 8 hours or overnight. The salted and pressed meat will look like this:
Cut a hole in the meat about an inch from the end and insert some butcher’s twine. Hang the meat in a cool, clean, and airy spot where the temperature will be less than 70 degrees. Hang the meat for 5-10 days, until the meat feels firm like a nearly ripe avocado. Here is the meat after hanging for 5 days:
At this stage, I did not follow the recipe precisely, partly intentionally and partly by mistake. When the recipe called for was to chop the garlic in a food processor and then to puree it with ½ cup of water. Then the spices are mixed together, and then mixed with the garlic puree, and another ½ or so of water to form a paste with a thickness like pancake batter. The meat is then coated in this spice mixture and hung for another 2-3 days.
What I actually did was to mix up the spices with pressed garlic and to smear it all over the meat. Since the meat already seemed to be very dry, I put the coated meat in a glass lasagna pan in the refrigerator for the 2-3 days. I then brushed off all the spices, and cut the meat with a slice machine set at a very thin setting into thin slices. The meat could now be stored in the refrigerator for as long as 3 months. I used some of it, and then froze the rest in 4 oz. packages.
My next task is to figure out how to use it. Armenians like to eat it with bread as a charcuterie. They also like eating it with eggs. Here is an omelet made with 2 eggs, 1 oz. of basturma cut up in finely, and 1 chopped scallion.
I think it would be good with some brie and a good bread.