I couldn’t say yacht correctly for the longest time. Until I was nearly in junior high, I kept saying it like hachet but with a “y.”
Well, apparently it’s an affliction that doesn’t die easily, because when I moved to Italy, I couldn’t say bresaola for the life of me. I don’t know if my mind was thinking it was another word or what, but I kept saying it some weird way that was the source of great amusement to my friends and great embarrassment to me.
Fast forward to the other day, when I had to say bresaola while explaining the menu for a cooking class. I felt eyes on me and looked up to catch a bunch of puzzled looks. Of course, I got red assuming I had slipped back to my old ways, but it turns out it wasn’t how I was saying things that puzzled the group, it was what I was referring to. While it was a group of accomplished home cooks, none of them had heard of bresaola before so I started explaining. And, since the theme of the class was to cook with unknown ingredients, I was delighted to introduce them to yet another one.
Bresaola is air-cured beef that’s common all over Italy but seems to have gotten lost somewhere in prosciutto’s shadow. It’s a nice change from prosciutto and is just as versatile (though not yet as widely available). I’ve seen it in restaurants mostly, but it sometimes crops up at my local market or butcher (Angelenos: I found a pricey but rocking Wagyu version at Cube), or turn to one of the various online sources.
As for how to use it? Here are a few ideas to get you going:
Instead of carpaccio – You know how Italian restaurants serve plates of carpaccio (raw beef) served with arugula, shaved cheese, and a drizzle of oil, a squeeze of lemon, and some cracked pepper? Go ahead and make the same thing but with bresaola instead.
Like a sushi hand roll – Swap the bresaola for the seaweed and the hand roll fillings with whatever’s looking good at the store like: some big pieces of basil and super fresh mozzarella; thinly sliced hard cheese, a drizzle of balsamic, and some great looking greens from the market; or stuffed with a few slices of melon or pear tossed with good olive oil and cracked pepper.
A la Joe Barza – When I was cooking with chef Barza in Beirut, we made a Lebanese pesto and served it rolled up in pastirma (an Armenian take on dried beef). Now that I’m back stateside, I borrow that idea and serve it as an appetizer filled with any pesto I fancy making.
In a salad – This is the most common way I use bresaola and, from looking around online, it turns out I’m not alone. There’s this one with Manchego cheese, another with walnut pesto, and a summery take by Jamie Oliver. I like to pair it with figs, mixed greens, a chunk of burrata, and a drizzle of sherry vinegar for a sort of antipasto-meets-salad course.
Sandwich – Whenever I’m in New York City with a little free time, I stop by Ino for their bresaola sandwich with asparagus. The sandwich is filling yet dainty and the place is so dear that I’d move in if it weren’t a jam-packed wine bar. Since I can’t, I make a homemade version of that sandwich when the craving calls.
It must be said that none of these serving ideas are mind-bending concepts, but they all do a great job of showcasing the cured meat without overpowering it. If you’re feeling up for the adventure, try to make your own, and, once you’ve mastered that, consider this duck version from Mario Batali’s Babbo. I’ve never tried my hand at bresaola, but I have added it to my DIY list, which I’ll get back to just as soon as I finish writing this book. Oh, and for the record, it’s properly pronounced breah-zao-la.
Photo via Sifu Renka on flickr