For those of you who read my blog regularly, you will know about my camel hump adventures during the filming of Al Chef Yaktachef for Abu Dhabi TV. This was three years ago and from that day on, I have been wanting to write an article about camel hump. Finally I did. If you buy Lucky Peach’s Travel issue no. 7, you will find my piece with a picture of the sweet baby camel who gave up his life to provide me with the best camel hump I have ever eaten. Admittedly, I have not had so many but the few that I have tasted were nowhere near as good as this last one. And not so much because of my cooking skills, although I cooked it for less time than an Emirati cook would have, but mainly because the baby camel was a particularly fine milk-fed specimen. As a result, its meat was particularly tender.
If there are any animal activists reading this post, please do not send or leave me any abusive comments. Animals have been slaughtered for food since time began with the slaughter or butchering depicted by artists, some of whose pictures hang in museums. So, it is not outlandish for me to post photographs of the process. It may be a little daring but I see no reason to shy away from it. If you have a sensitive disposition or are against killing animals, please ignore this post and look at previous ones. You may be cheered by my belly dancer of the month!
And now that I have warned the sensitive souls who may be offended by this post, I will start from the beginning when I asked my totally delightful and supremely generous friend, Sheikha Bodour al-Qasimi, if she could help me get a camel hump. This she did by giving me a whole camel! Well, you cannot buy the hump alone. You need to buy the whole animal, and the younger it is, the better the meat. In the picture above, you see the baby camel arriving at the slaughterhouse behind the live animal market in Sharjah with his legs tied so that he does not bolt.
And waiting for him were the butchers, all dressed in white with the tools of the trade neatly hanging from each hip, cheerfully looking on as I snapped away.
I was very keen on their knife sheath and next time I go to Sharjah, I will make sure to get myself one! Not that I need it nor even have any use for it.
The driver backed the truck onto the ramp and as he got closer to it, the baby camel started braying as if he knew the sad fate that awaited him. I am not sure what it was that made him realise he was going to meet an untimely end. Perhaps it was the men in white. Anyhow, he was right to be scared. They showed no pity, dragging him off the truck then untying his legs to walk him into the killing chamber, a very clean white room with a blue floor and hoses everywhere to wash off the blood.
They sat the baby camel then one man took one hose and showered the camel’s mouth which seemed to subdue him.
Then one of the butchers sharpened his knife, invoked Allah and quickly slit the camel’s throat to release a huge jet of curdled blood. I always imagined blood to be a smooth dark red liquid like what comes out of a wound but his was very different. I even asked Harold McGee if the curdling was because the camel was still very young or because of the fear he felt before he died. Harold was not sure adding that it was not so easy to do experiments to establish the reason!
It took some time for the camel to bleed completely – for the meat to be halal, which it has to be for Muslims otherwise they will not eat it and some will not even touch it, the slaughtered animal has to be drained of all blood. Then they waited for it to relax before they showered it again and started skinning it.
The senior butcher made a deep incision at the back of the neck in preparation for severing the head from the body. He then meticulously started cutting into the skin down the back of the animal so that he could peel it off to reveal the meat and the hump of course, which was my main concern.
He was quickly joined by the other butchers and between all three of them, it didn’t take very long for them to strip the animal of its skin. By that time I had had enough gore for the day and I was also basically done as what interested me the most was to see what the hump actually looked like before it was cut off. I really should have stayed for the butchering. I will next time, and instead of just taking the hump, I will take all the meat back to my brother’s for a lavish camel feast.
Even then, the hump was far more than my brother and I could eat but I really wanted to see how it cooked and exactly how much meat there was under the fat. A lot! I worried about it not fitting into his oven but I didn’t need to worry about that. Rather I needed to worry about giving the meat a delicious flavour which I did by marinating it in rose water, saffron and a heady Emirati spice mix called bzar made up of cumin, cardamom, ginger, coriander and other spices. The mixture and ratios vary from Emirate to Emirate as well as from family to family but even the commercial one that I used was pretty good although nowhere near as good as the home-made ones I have in London.
In any case, I let my camel hump marinate for a couple of hours then I roasted it in a hot oven (220 C) for about 2 1/2 hours. You can see how it came out in the top picture with my brother’s lovely housekeeper looking incredulously at it. She had never seen anything like it before.
We let it rest a while before carving it. I had prepared a saffron rice to serve with it which I sprinkled with rose water at the very end and garnished with roasted nuts. We then feasted on it on the terrace, overlooking the Arabian Gulf and sipping a very good red wine — I can’t remember which but my brother has a fine collection.
And here is what the hump looked like on the plate, both a little of the meat and the tip of the hump which was just delicious, a little like the fat from the tail of fat-tail lambs. After all the blood and gore, it made the most elegant and delicious lunch. My next camel hump project is to plan a big party in the fall on my brother’s terrace where I will serve the whole animal although I am still not sure how to cook the different cuts including the liver which is another prize cut!
Tagged : bzar, camel hump, curdled blood, emirati spice mixture, halal meat, harold mcgee, live animal market, lucky peach, lucky peach travel issue no. 7, marinating camel hump, roasting camel hump, sharjah, sharjah live animal market, sheikha bodour al-qasimi, slaughterhouse, ultimate delicacy 7