Armenian Basterma

Basterma is an air-dried cured spiced beef, sliced paper thin. It has been a time honoured family tradition of mine to serve it scrambled with eggs on the morning of holidays like Christmas or for other special occasions.  For many years it had been a struggle to source it though, frequently involving ordering it from across the country at specialty butcher shops. When the last of these closed down I felt it was time to finally learn how to make it myself.

Having never before cured any sort of meat, this was all new. The final result turned out to surpass my expectations and the result was a goodly amount of some the best Basterma I have ever had. I'm happy to share how I make it, in the hopes of keeping the tradition alive.

The Meat

Cut of beef tenderloinI recommend selecting a good quality section of tenderloin for this. About 10" long (it needs to fit into a casserole pan in your fridge)

To start lay the meat in the casserole and, using a fork, pierce the meat all over. This will both tenderize but also allow the salt (and later spices) to penetrate and do their work.

Once it is well punctured, cover it completely with coarse rock-salt or Kosher salt (you'll nbeed about 3 cups of salt for this). The salt will draw out the fluids from the meat over the course of the next 3-4 days.

Store the salted meat in the fridge for this period, rotate it if necessary to keep it completely covered with salt (I rarely needed to do this)


Cured BastermaAfter ~ 4 days remove the meat from the fridge and wash off all the salt. Soak the meat in cold water for about an hour. Drain and pat dry with paper towels. Create a wrap/bag from cheesecloth and tie closed with some string - then hang the meat to cure.

This stage is going to need a cool dry place. I use my attic in October/November - Making Basterma in the summer for most climates is going to be challenging, so it's best to plan to do this in the late fall. You could probably do the entire process in a fridge but it would probably need to be a dedicated fridge to avoid the Basterma attaining other scents or tastes from things in the fridge.

Hang for ~ 2 weeks a bit longer is fine as well (my last batch hung for 3 weeks)


The Paste

Spices being mixed for Basterma pasteThe best part of Basterma is it's unique spiced taste. To make the spice-paste (called chiamin) that will coat the cured meat you will need the following:

1/4 cup Paprika

1/4 cup ground fenugreek seeds

1 tbsp allspice

1 1/2 tsp ground black pepper

1tsp cumin

1/2 tsp cayenne pepper

6 cloves garlic (crushed)



Basterma coated with spice pasteMix together all the spices. Quality is important here as always. Add water sufficient to make a paste 1-2 cups usually. You will be coating the Basterma with the paste so make sure it's thick enough to stick but thin enough not to spread.

Completely coat the cured Basterma on all sides with this paste.

It should look something like this when finished

Store the coated Basterma in the fridge for another 2-3 weeks. WARNING: your entire fridge is going to smell strongly of Basterma (I love this)  but if it is too overpowering you can cover the dish with plastic-wrap - I would recommend doing this after week 1 regardless so the past doesn't dry out too much.


The key for good Basterma is to slice it thin - VERY thin - you need to be able to see through the slice a little. This requires a good meat slicer - I splurged and got a good one specifically for this purpose (so far it's the only thing I have used it for)

Meat Slicer

Warning: Slicing the Basterma is going to make a HUGE mess. there will be spice paste crumble everywhere (it will literally fling it around the room a bit) You will need to disassemble your slicer to clean it. 

Meat slicer with mess after slicing Basterma

... but trust me... it's worth it!



Basterma packaged for freezingStoring

I recommend keeping the slices separated on freezer sheets and then inside ziplock bags with as much air sucked out as possible in ther freezer. They will keep for years this way and you can pull out just as much as you need at a time. 

I really hope you enjoy it if you are brave enough to try!

Tags: Food