Bosnian Bresaola: Slavic Charcuterie in Houston

Bosnian Bresaola: Slavic Charcuterie in Houston

Last week, I found myself over on the west side of town far too late for lunch at Cafe Pita and too early for dinner but still craving a Bosnian treat. So I ducked into the Balkan Market & Coffee Shop (10928 Westheimer) just across the street and did a little grocery shopping to prepare a quick Bosnian meal at home.

Of the many items I picked up, this piece of goveđa pršuta was my favorite find. When we think of cured or smoked meats, we generally think of French or Italian charcuterie -- things like saucissons or pancetta. But the art of curing meats certainly extends far beyond western Europe. And in places like the Balkans, smoked and cured meats occupy just as important a space in Slavic cuisine as they do in Italian or French cuisine.

One of the great specialties of Montenegro is a cured meat called pršuta. It sounds a lot like prosciutto for a reason: they're virtually the same thing. Pršuta is made with pork and is air dried, just like prosciutto. Much like prosciutto di San Daniele is Italy's finest version of the meat, so is njeguška pršuta to Montenegro. The pršuta is made in Njeguši, a village not far from the capital in the southern part of Montenegro and takes its distinct flavor from the mountain air in that area.

And then there's goveđa pršuta, seen above.

Sadly, part of that lovely purplish-red color comes from nitrites. Guess you can't have everything.
Sadly, part of that lovely purplish-red color comes from nitrites. Guess you can't have everything.

Unlike any other prosciutto you'll run across, goveđa pršuta is made from beef. Specifically, from top round steak (a tender and flavorful cut from the upper rear leg of the cow). The word "goveđa" in Croatian means beef or cow, but this a Bosnian delicacy.

What makes goveđa pršuta so interesting is the way that the Muslim inhabitants of Bosnia have adapted a popular regional meat to fit their lifestyle and religious restrictions. Whereas standard pršuta is made with pork -- which Muslims can't eat -- goveđa pršuta is instead made with wholly acceptable beef. And it's also wholly delicious.

The taste of goveđa pršuta is similar to another air-dried, cured beef product: bresaola. It's intensely meaty -- much more so than standard prosciutto -- and flavored only with garlic and salt, unlike the other spices that go into bresaola. It's similar to suho meso, another Bosnian cured meat, but doesn't taste or look as much like beef jerky as the suho meso does.

At Balkan Market, nearly two pounds of the smoky, slightly garlicky meat was only $12. That's far, far less than you'd spend on a piece of bresaola and -- for my money -- it tastes every bit as good. Try substituting it for bresaola at your next party or dinner and see if anyone notices the difference. They might even like it more.

And even after slicing tender piece after tender piece off over the last five days, the goveđa pršuta is like the loaves and the fishes -- it just seems to last forever. That's $12 very well spent in my book.


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