Everyone seems to have come up with a different recipe for cured pork–bacon, tocino, prosciutto, Serrano or Jinhua ham are just a few examples. All of these rely on a high amount of fat, though I won’t pretend to understand the science.
Salted beef is different. Without the fat, it doesn’t have the richness of cured pork, but still develops a very complex flavor.
Not surprisingly, beef was originally dried as an expedient. Cattle are big animals, and in places like South America, where the animals were originally slaughtered for their hides, a lot of meat got left over. Eventually, a cuisine developed out of the particular taste and texture of the dried beef, which was first softened by re-hydrating, roasting, frying or pounding in a mortar. (As in one of my favorite breakfasts, yum yum…)
As I have discussed in more than a few posts, southwest China has long been cattle country. It is also heavily Muslim, which further supports a beef cuisine.
The dried beef in Yunnan is called ganba (干巴), and unlike the spiced recipes seen in Sichuan, is pretty straightforward, consisting simply of salt, beef and time.
The Muslim version shown below consists of whole cuts of beef, whereas the Bai version is made with sliced beef, each producing a different texture.
Like any dried meat, the finished ganba is rock hard, and intensely flavorful.
One common preparation is to cut the beef into tiny pieces and fry it with rice and some leafy vegetable. Another is to deep fry the sliced beef–like in the picture below (this picture also includes some deep fried intestines, which try as I might, I have not been able to learn to like).
Last night, I had a more Southeast Asian version, with sliced dried beef mixed with an an unknown leafy vegetable, lime and raw bird’s eye chilies. The beef itself was notably different from the Muslim version I was used to, harder and more stringy. Needless to say, the dish was crazy hot, but also very tasty.