Cured venison basturma with blueberry buttermilk dressing
Basturma, pastirma, pastourma, basterma – whatever you call it – is a staple in Ottoman cuisine. It is a cured and air-dried cut, commonly of beef from various parts of the animal, but it can be produced from other red meat animals.
On a recent trip through Finland I was cooking with reindeer meat and applied the same process to some backstrap, with great results. I love the texture that comes from curing the meat in this way. It becomes quite compact and dense but also retains some of the original raw texture, meaning it can be applied to dish preparations such as carpaccio or tataki.
At this time of year, northern Europe is brimming with wild berries and herbs. Blueberries from a wild source tend to have a more defined flavour that is almost an imitation of itself – at times the flavour seems as pronounced as bubblegum. Steeping berries in vinegar and oil highlights the fragrance and sweetness from the fruit. But keep in mind that this method is best served within a couple of hours of preparation. Otherwise, the acid tends to break down the structure too much, rendering it pulpy and less definitive in flavour and aroma.
Basturma is a great first step into the world of curing meat, as the extent to which you cure it correlates to how long it can be kept. A lightly cured meat will last only a couple of weeks, but a well-cured and air-dried one will last indefinitely if stored correctly. The other bonus of this method is the paste applied to the outside. It provides a barrier against bacteria and other pathogens that can affect its longevity and flavour. This curing process also doesn’t require any additions such as nitrates to retain the colour. Don’t be too concerned when the meat turns a darker shade of red as this is inevitable with its exposure to oxygen – it won’t affect the quality of flavour or texture.
Although this style of cured meat would more commonly be served as an addition to components in a meal, it does work really well as a composed dish.
- 1kg venison/beef backstrap
- 200g fine salt
- 80g raw sugar
- 5g ground fenugreek
- 10g sweet paprika
- 2 garlic cloves
For the dressing
- 500g blueberries
- 50ml champagne vinegar
- 60ml light olive oil
- 100ml buttermilk
- fresh horseradish, grated
Time: 30 minutes preparation + 6-7 days curing
- Combine the salt and raw sugar and sprinkle one-third onto the bottom of a plastic food-safe tray. Place the meat on top of this and cover with the rest of the curing mix.
- Leave this for two days, covered, in your refrigerator. Make sure you turn the meat at least twice during this curing time.
- After two days remove the now cured meat from the tray and submerge in fresh, cold (preferably iced) water for 10 minutes before drying it with paper towels.
- Using a mortar and pestle, blend the fenugreek, paprika and garlic into a paste. Rub this paste evenly over the cured meat, then place it in your fridge on a stainless steel rack with cheesecloth over the top for a further three or four days. (Allowing the meat to hang is ideal, and if you can make space in a wine fridge, it would be perfect for this.)
- When the meat is ready to serve, steep the blueberries in the vinegar and oil for 30 minutes to let the berries bleed out a little and release sugars into the vinegar.
- Now split this dressing with the buttermilk and partially combine it without stirring completely, otherwise the sweet accents don’t come through as well and the buttermilk takes over completely.
- Slice the cured meat finely and arrange on a plate. Dress with a few spoonfuls of the buttermilk mix and finish with freshly grated horseradish over the top.
- Serve with bread and garden leaves as a beautiful light lunch.
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on August 11, 2023 as "Cure indulgence".
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