Saturday, October 2, 2010
I will come out and say the obvious: one of the best aspects of living abroad is the myriad chances to taste new things. I love it. Sure, many of these "things" I will never try again (salt lassi, white ants, cooked goat's blood) but some surprise me and will happily pop into my mouth any time I come across them (grasshoppers and fried pig's ears, I'm lookin' at you!) Aside from insects and internal organs, however, there is a wide range of proteins that are simply difficult to find in the States - and probably Europe, for that matter. I'm thinking of the guinea pig Anthony Bordain ate in Peru; the dog (and dog penis) that my friend Solveigh saw (but didn't try; poop) on a menu in Cambodia; and my longed-for encounter with camel.
I began thinking camel as something edible when another friend, who did the Peace Corps in Mauritania, mentioned eating camel bones and rice, causing me to think "Huh, camel. Wonder what that tastes like?" At the time I had no idea I would one day end up living in the Middle East so the thought floated to the back of my mind, and even when I did move here in 2009 I didn't instantly begin my search. It was one day when I was at the meat market, buying a couple of chickens, when I noticed that the butchers' stalls had pictures of animals they offered: sheep, cow and camel. Fuck yeah! Yet despite the pictures there was never any camel to be had; occasionally there was beef, but mainly it was mutton and lamb. Then a new Lulu Hypermarket opened near us and there, in the butcher's display case, were hunks of camel, um, shank. Maybe shoulder. Brisket? Meat.
Then there was the problem of cooking it. Internet searches told me to treat it like lamb and that it tasted similar, but there was no way I was going to cook two kilos of camel meat medium rare. Besides, my hunk was covered with connective tissue, so I knew "low and slow" was the way to go (rhyming unintended). I decided the keep things simple, so marinated the roast with olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, rosemary, thyme and mint. Simply Recipes suggested I use a marinating bag, which I didn't have, but a litter pan liner seemed to worked just fine. Marinate for 24 hours, cook directly on oven rack at 425 for 20 minutes, then reduce to 300 and cook for another two hours, and voila, crispy-on-the-outside, tender-on-the-inside meat.
What does it taste like? Two days later I am still trying to figure that out. Maybe it tastes like lamb, but the last time I ate roast lamb was over fifteen years ago so I can't quite judge. The next day I ate a piece cold and, with my eyes closed, could almost believe I was eating roast beef. Generic lean red meat. Doesn't matter, because what it tasted like was good. It would probably pair well with some kind of red wine. Or white. (I miss wine.) And that's not just me talking, but our brave taste-testers who came over for dinner, as well. Which brings to my point, if I ever had one: always try something new. And that's what I've got.
(No recipe because, seriously? I don't expect many people to have such easy access to this ungulate.)