Using Pastirma

What the hell is Pastirma anyway? And shouldn’t I be saying Pastrami?

While both share a very similar origin, and actually taste very similar; they are two seperate types of salted red meat. Pastirma, available in all former Ottoman countries, is stronger tasting and darker in color than the western Pastrami. These former Ottoman countries are for the most part Muslim, and share with the Jewish faith the tenent of eating only Kosher/Halal food – with a special ban on eating Pork products. Muslims also do not drink alchohol, so for a gourmand like myself, cooking with wine is out of the question – more on that later.

Here in Egypt, Pastirma is used in a similar fashion to Bacon – as a breakfast meat, and is commonly seen mixed in with scrambled eggs. But it has almost no use in an egyptian kitchen otherwise.

I’ve been thinking – why dont we use Pastirma as a substitute for Pork Bacon? The fat content in Pastirma is actually high enough to provide its own cooking oil, and yet it still retains a distinctly beef flavor. It is certainly alot more flavorful than the Breakfast Beef strips available at your local Stop and Shop.

To that end, I’ve started using Pastirma in my own modified recipe for Chateubriand, as well as using locally made cheese and mint as a stuffing for chicken breasts wrapped in Pastirma. It has worked beautifully. But the fun doesn’t stop there: do you want to elevate your mashed potatoes to a new level? Take a few strips of pastrami and put them on a tray in a 350F oven for about 7 minutes. when they come out, just break them into pieces and mix them in with sour cream, butter and chives. Viola! Heavenly creamy mashed potatoes.

Here are some tips for buying Pastirma here in cairo:

1- Make sure your Deli is clean – ideally, the pastirma should be a deep red color, not brown. If possible, ask the man to wipe down the cutting machine before preparing your order.
2- Tell him to cut it thinly. I mean THIN. Paper thin. there’s alot of flavor in there, so having a thick slab of pastrami even 3mm thick will overpower anything you wrap it in. Also, cutting it thinly makes it easier to use as a wrap, since thick slices tend to break up along the lines of fat in the meat.
3- If possible, ask for Garlic free pastirma – or just buy the Al-Marai brand. This brand tastes perfect – mild, yet still distinctly pastirma, and without leaving that lingering smell on your fingers. Its texture is also perfect, very smooth. Plus, it actually cuts alot better than the other brands; so the Deli man won’t have a problem cutting it thinly.
4- If you live in Nasr City/Heliopolis, just go to Spinney’s. The Deli there is fantastic. Tell the man you want Al-Marai Pastirma sliced “like paper”, and make sure he shows you a sample. It’s not being mean – it’s being assertive. While you’re there, pick up their Beef Filets cut conveniently into round steaks. They will come in handy very soon!

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About Wesam E Masoud
Chef Patron of @chefsmarketmasr, Host of @CBCSofra's #matbakh101. I have one degree in Medicine & 3rd degree burns from cooking.

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