Etymology and history
The Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink writes that pastırma is the word Ottomans used for a type of Byzantine cured beef that was called paston. The Oxford Companion for Food says that a Byzantine dried meat delicacy was "a forerunner of the pastirma of modern Turkey". According to Johannes Koder, an expert in Byzantine studies, paston could mean either salted meat or salted fish, while akropaston means salted meat. Andrew Dalby gives the definition of paston as "salted fish" and akropaston apakin as "well-salted fillet steak". Gregory Nagy gives the definition of akropaston as "smoked", describing apakin as "a kind of salami sausage, probably similar to pastourma".
Other scholars have given different accounts of the historical origins of the Ottoman pastırma. The armies of settled, agricultural peoples had cereal based diet, and some Turkish and Bulgarian scholars have written that certain medieval fighters who kept dried and salted meat under their saddles had an edge over opponents who ate mostly cereals. Ammianus Marcellinus wrote that the Huns warmed this meat by placing it between their legs or on the backs of their horses. Clifford Wright, a recipient of the James Beard Cookbook of the year award has written that pastırma is "originally from Turkey or Armenia".[better source needed] Pastırma is mentioned in Mahmud of Kashgar's Diwan Lughat al-Turk and Evliya Çelebi's Seyahatname.
The word pastrami may be a Yiddish construction that combined salami with pastırma or one of the similar linguistic variations of the word (pastram in Romanian, pastromá in Russian and basturma in Armenian).
Preparation and usage
Pastırma is usually made from water buffalo or beef, but other meats can also be used. In Egypt pastırma is made not only with beef, but with lamb, water buffalo, goat and camel as well. Some pastırmas are made with horsemeat. Different cuts of meat may be used; a single cow can produce 26 different "types" of pastırma. Fillet, shank, leg and shoulder cuts are used for the best quality pastırmas. It is usually made during the months of October and November.
The meat is salted and rinsed before being dried and pressed. After the drying period the meat is covered with a spice paste called çemen. Çemen is made from a paste of ground fenugreek seeds, Turkish red pepper and mashed garlic. The dried product is covered with the wet paste and left to dry again. The entire process takes approximately one full month. Pastırma is classified as an "intermediate moisture food". Lowering the moisture level is a form of food preservation that hinders the growth of microorganisms, and the çemen paste "is used to control surface mold growth during storage". Other functions of the çemen include improved flavor, characteristic red coloring, prevention of further drying, and antimicrobal effects.
Pastırma can be used as a topping for pide bread, hamburgers, and hummus. It can be as a filling for a "burek" that is made with kadayıf instead of the traditional filo dough. It may be combined with potato to make a filling for traditional bureks as well.
It is also a common addition to many of the traditional vegetable dishes, especially the tomato and fava bean stew called kuru fasulye, but also cabbage (pastırmalı lahana), chickpeas (pastırmalı nohut), asparagus (pastırmalı kuşkonmaz) and spinach (pastırmalı ıspanak). It can also be used to make cheesy pull-apart bread.
In Turkey pastıma can be eaten as a breakfast dish, often with eggs, or as a meze small plate accompanied by alcohol like the traditional anise-flavored liquor called rakı. It is commonly used as an ingredient for omelettes and may also be used to make a variation of eggs benedict.
Turkey produces around 2041 tons of pastırma each year. The pastırma from Kayseri is particularly well known. In their 1893 report the British Foreign Office note that Kayseri, which they call Cesarea, "is specially renowned for the preparation of basturma (pemmican)". In Kastamonu, which produces around 200 tons of pastırma each year, çemen is made using garlic that is locally produced by the farming villages of Taşköprü.
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