Pressed Beef



Preparation info

  • Difficulty


Appears in

Yashim Cooks Istanbul

Yashim Cooks Istanbul

By Jason Goodwin

Published 2016

  • About

The Turkish horsemen of Central Asia used to preserve meat in pockets on the sides of their saddles, pressing it with their legs as they rode. Pastırma means ‘pressed’, and this pressed, dry-cured beef off the steppe is the origin of the Italian pastrami and consequently the mainstay of a thousand New York delis. The best pastırma comes from Kayseri in central Turkey – Evliya Çelebi, the great and witty traveller, recommended it in the 17th century. Most of it is eaten in Istanbul. If you want to have a go making your own, it’s not very difficult but requires patience and a fortnight. The best quality pastirma is made with fillet but topside can be used, too. Given the effort, it’s worth starting with the very best beef you can afford.


  • fillet of beef (or topside) 1kg
  • plenty of fine sea salt
  • fenugreek seeds 8 tbsp, ground
  • redpepper 65 g, diced
  • hot chillies 15 g, chopped
  • garlic cloves 100g/4oz, peeled
  • cumin 2 tsp, ground


  • Trim the fillet to remove any fat, then rinse it and pat it dryLay the meat out flat in an earthenware dish and cover it with salt. After four hours or so, rinse the fillet, chuck the salt, and start again. This time, place a layer of greaseproof paper over the top, cover with a board, and weigh the board down with something heavy – a pan of water, a stone, whatever. Put the fillet somewhere cool, or in the fridge.
  • Every day, for the next two weeks, pour away the brine formed as the salt draws out the moisture from the beef, and replace with fresh salt.
  • Once the salt stays dry, wash it off, and put the fillet in a pan of cold water overnight.
  • Next day, pat the beef dry and hang it for a couple of days in a cool, dry place – your larder would be ideal, or a chilly barn, but the porch or a fridge is fine.
  • Now make the paste, called çemen, whizzing the remaining ingredients together in a food processor or bashing them in a mortar, then addingwater to make a sticky paste.
  • Work the paste into the meat, coating it entirely. Hang it up again, where the air can get at it – the fenugreek and the garlic seem to stop flies – for 24 hours in hot weather, 2 or 3 days if it’s cold. The çemen paste should be tacky, and the meat itself hard, but not without some give when you press it.
  • Wrap the pastirma in a cheesecloth and keep it in the fridge. It can be served in very thin slices as a cold hors d’oeuvre, or cooked with eggs and tomatoes. You can eat it on toast or pop it into the bean stew – fasulye.