A lot of my friends don’t understand Twitter. No matter how hard I try to explain why it is brilliant and wonderful and The Future they just don’t get it. As far as they’re concerned it’s still just a bunch of online weirdos telling each other what they had for dinner when really no-one cares. Well whilst some may not care what I have for dinner I do and a couple of nights ago, thanks to Twitter, this online weirdo had the chance to join a group of fellow Twits in a particularly interesting culinary adventure, into the mysterious world of the camel.
Let me explain a little more. A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to catch a conversation over Twitter between my friend MiMi and some other online food folk concerning the possibilities of cooking and eating camel. Intrigued I immediately tweeted MiMi to find out what was going on and how I could get myself in on the camel-y action. The next thing I knew Jane Smith of Kezie Foods had stepped in offering an entire range of camel cuts to sample and I found myself swept up amidst plans for a camel cook-off extravaganza, or #camelfest as the obligatory hashtag came to be. This dear friends, is why I love Twitter.
Last weekend these plans finally came to fruition, with the equally charming Stefan Gates and Georgia Glynn Smith playing host to our madness in their beautiful North London home. Kezie Foods had been more than generous with their camel delivery and everyone was given the chance to try their own take on the unusual meat.
To begin the evening we were given a masterclass in empanada making by Rachel McCormack of Catalan Cooking; stretching the dough out by hand into little discs to be filled with one of two fillings Rachel had prepared beforehand using some of the camel steaks. As we worked Stefan diligently grilled some marinated kebabs and I got my first taste of camel. Unfortunately if I’m honest, although the marinade was nice the meat itself was a little tough, although Stefan did suggest that may have be down to a mistake in the cut of meat used. However this was only the first cooking method to be tried and we remained undeterred by the camel’s potential.
Back to the empanadas and following Georgia’s lead I was encouraged to decorate my attempt with a little doughy camel, although there were some comments that it looked more like a jelly-fish than the dromedary I was aiming for. Egg-washed these were popped into the oven while we moved onto the next stage in camel cuisine; steaks. Although cooked to a beautiful looking rare by our masters of the grill Henry Dimbleby and Will Leigh and topped with a gorgeous herb butter these again proved to to be just a tiny bit on the tough side. That being said there were some who after initial uncertainty claimed to have found parts significantly more tender than others, and not being a steak connoisseur, I would have happily eaten the lot without complaint.
At this point in the evening, in light of the camel’s apparent toughening when faced with the fast and hard heat of a griddle, someone raised the suggestion of what it might be like raw. In stepped Paul Hart who speedily whipped up an incredible camel tartare, unanimously declared the best camel dish of the evening. I could have eaten a bowl full of just this and been satisfied for the rest of the night, although I suspect I would have had to fight others off to get a monopoly over the bowl. Raw camel, who knew?
Next up on the grill were camel burgers, provided ready made by Kezie Foods. I’ll be honest once again and admit these weren’t a favourite of mine. They certainly weren’t bad but given the choice I wouldn’t pick them over the more traditional beef burger. MiMi on the other hand thought they tasted quite like Asian Beef Balls, the sort you may find sliced into noodle dishes like pho or hot pots; I could see what she meant, although that didn’t enamour me to them any more. MiMi on the other hand actively sought out the plate with the remaining burgers to finish off.
Finally, with the empanadas out of the oven we gathered round the table for our remaining forays into the world of camel cuisine. With no prior experience of a non-camel empanada I had no real expectations for how these ought to taste, but they were lovely little pockets of pastry and flavoured meat, even if they couldn’t quite match the wow of the tartare on the night. Ever vigilant against food waste however I did bag some up to take home with me and after a night’s resting these made for a truly delicious lunch the next day. Whether this is any comment on the camel or not unfortunately I can’t say but I was quite sad that I hadn’t brought more home with me.
Last but certainly not least in our camel experimentations we had MiMi Aye’s Burmese cinnamon camel curry, a dish similar to one I’d eaten and loved previously which had used the more usual chicken in place of camel. Slow cooked for 8 hours by MiMi in order to soften and break down the camel meat this was a close second for favourite dish of the night.
But what of my contribution to the evening, what manner of camel concoction did I create? Unfortunately none; another busy week at work meant I missed my chance to grab some of the camel meat to cook with at home beforehand. Not wanting to turn up empty handed though I did bake a flour-less chocolate cake using one of my stock favourite dessert recipes by Nigella Lawson and topped with an addition of blackberries and some decorative orange zest. This seemed to go down incredibly well and I sat beaming and blushing as people complimented and went back for second and third helpings; but then again, who doesn’t love a good flour-less chocolate cake?
Concluding our adventures into camel then, what did we learn about this mysterious and unusual meat? Camel is an exceedingly lean meat with only a subtle flavour of it’s own, although this does make it an effective vehicle for other flavours to ride on. When cooking with camel one of two opposing approaches came out as best, either cook it long and slow or don’t cook it at all and simply prepare it to be eaten raw; fast high-heat cooking it seemed may not be the camel’s best friend. Although it may not have jumped to the top of my meats to buy list I would eat camel again, and there were suggested alternative methods we didn’t pursue such as making camel biltong which I would be very interested to try. Certainly if you’re looking for a lower fat, lower cholesterol alternative to the more standard beef I’d say it is worth giving camel a go.
A massive thank you once again to Jane at Kezie Foods for enabling this evening by generously supplying our mad carnivorous group with an incredible selection of camel to play with, to Stefan and Georgia for inviting us into their home as some most welcoming and gracious hosts I’ve known, and to Tom Bowles our talented photographer for the evening who’s photographs I have used in part here, interspersed with my own mediocre attempts, with each marked accordingly.