Monday, July 30, 2007

Eating Camel.

Today, July 30th

The Australian explorer John McKinlay was given the task of searching for the lost Burke and Wills expedition which had set off in August 1860 with the aim of being the first to cross the continent from south to north. By the end of the year the deaths of Burke and Wills had been confirmed, and McKinlay turned his party northwards, as instructed, to explore the area to the north and west of Lake Eyre.

Eventually McKinlay and his men reached the Gulf of Carpentaria - to find the ship they were hoping to board had already left. They turned south and east, heading for Bowen on the coast of Queensland – six hundred mile trip for which their health, animals and supplies were not prepared. On this day in 1862 they killed and ate their last camel. With only a few horses left they were in dire straights, but a few days later they came across a cattle trail and within an hour were at the cattle station eating roast beef and damper.
Which brings me to my questions of the day. What does camel taste like? How does one cook camel? Not having any experience of my own, I am obliged to go to the experts.

In The Curiosities of Food, published in 1859, Peter Lund Simmons (who probably did not actually eat it but quotes others) says:

“ The flesh of the camel is dry and hard, but not unpalatable. … In Barbary, the tongues are salted and smoked for exportation to Italy and other countries, and they form a very good dish. The flesh is little esteemed by the Tartars, but they use the hump cut into slices, which, when dissolved in tea, serves the purpose of butter.”

The late Alan Davidson in The Oxford Companion to Food quotes Stobart (1980) on camel’s milk, which he says:

“has very small fat globules and cannot readily be churned to make butter.” It can however, apparently be made into a kind of yoghurt.

Waverley Root in Food quotes his correspondent Dr Lloyd Cabot Briggs, ‘an anthropologist who has spent a good deal of time in the Sahara’, and who presumably should know. He says:

“Camel [meat] has a distinctive taste which show up in a peculiar way. While you are eating it, it tastes just like rather ordinary beef or relatively tasty veal (depending on age), but when you’ve finished and run your tongue around your mouth, you suddenly discover a slightly sweetish after-taste, like horse but not quite so much, very faint, but definite.”

Hmm. So camel does not taste like chicken.

It seems that the experts give second-hand reports too. I would be delighted to hear some first hand experience, so please do leave a comment if you have some!

To my surprise, the Larousse Gastronomique (I have a 1961 edition) gives a number of recipes for camel. Here are a couple, in case you should get invited on a Saharan or Outback Aus tralian expedition.

Camel’s Feet Vinaigrette.
Soak the feet of a young camel. Cook them in a white court-bouillon in the same way as for Calf’s feet. Drain them. Serve with a vinaigrette sauce.

Roast Camel’s Hump.
Only the hump of a very young camel is prepared in this way.
Marinate the meat with oil, lemon juice, salt, pepper, spices. Roast it in the same way as for roast sirloin of beef. Serve with its own gravy and water-cress.

On this topic: For more about the role of camels in the exploration of Australia, see the story on John Horrocks.

Tomorrow’s Story …

All about cucumbers.

Quotation for the Day …

Abu el-Heidja has deflowered in one night
Once eighty virgins, and he did not eat or drink between,
Because he surfeited himself with chickpeas,
And had drunk camel's milk with honey mixed.
Sheik Nefzawi: The Perfumed Garden


Anonymous said...

okay you get an "A" for being original! Camel hump....hmmm. Well try everything once, right?

The Old Foodie said...

I'll CONSIDER trying everything once, will that do?

Anonymous said...

From Entspinster:

Cleopatra the 7th (the one in Shakespeare) is said to have been fond of "camel heels". Approximately your first entry, one guesses.

Anonymous said...

I was in Jordan working for 3 months and had the joy of having fresh camel cooked for us by the butcher himself. I thought it was quite tasty, but then again, I'm very adventurous with food. It was a little tougher than beef, and a bit more gamey, although not nearly as games as deer or elk. If anyone enjoys discovering new tastes, I would definitely recommend trying camel. It does not taste like any other meat I've ever had...especially chicken.

Tanami SCS said...

This was the only recipe for camel hump I could find and it didn't work. I think the meat needs some other form of preparation because it came out impossibly chewy. Even so, the taste, although good was much too fatty and rich to be paletable, a bit like eating lard.

The camel was a young female in good condition and the meat was fresh. I marinated it overnight in lime juice, taragon, ground corriander and oil then roasted it with some green corriander seeds at 160c for 3 hours. It came out looking like a roast.

The outer edges went crispy and that was OK to eat although, again, very rich, not something you'd really want more than a nibble of.

The Old Foodie said...

Hello tanami scs: I am impressed! I usually think of this sort of recipe as having historical interest only - I never dreamt that anyone would actually cook camel!

Anonymous said...

I have found a market here in minneapolis that has camel meat available in the butcher shop - - i will be stopping by there tonight to purchase a small amount for a "test grilling" - - who kows maybe this will becaome a new Tanksgiving tradition - -
Gobble Gobble

Anonymous said...

I just returned from a month's vacation in Morocco. In a restaurant in Rabat called Tagine wa Tangia, there was a camel tangia on the menu. I nervously ordered it. The waiter assured me that it is delicious. It was, and not at all exotic to taste.

A Tangia is a slow cooked dish named for the earthenware jar in which it is baked. The camel was a shank cut. It tastes almost exactly like braised short ribs of beef. It's very rich and gelatinous (like short-ribs)It has a slightly sweet aftertaste, but so does most Moroccan food, since they often use raisins, dates, or other fruit in meat dishes. I also had a Camelburger at Clock Cafe in the medina of Fes, which is indistinguishable from a good hamburger.

Anonymous said...

By early January [a young Englishman named Tommy Bowles] was noting 'I have now dined off camel, antelope, dog, donkey, mule, and elephant, which I approve in the order in which I have written, ... horse is really too disgusting and it has a peculiar taste never to be forgotten.'
This was written during the siege of Paris, 1870

The Old Foodie said...

Thanks for this, Anonymous! I dont know how I missed this story - I thought I had read a lot of Paris siege stories!

Anonymous said...

This is very wrong camels are not made to eat.

eddmo said...

I will be cooking a camel tenderloin for Thanksgiving this year. Every year for the past 15+ years I have cooked game or exotic meats.
I will advise after Thanksgiving

Anonymous said...

When I was in the southern part of Morocco, I tried something that looked like kafta, was made of camel meat and served in a type of flat bread. It was very delicious and reminded me of veal. I'm very picky when it comes to food, but would eat it again (and again).