Sunday, January 27, 2008

Beef Turkey

It's not really beef turkey, but that is what the Marvelous Miss Thing calls it.

I love jerky, even though I'm not a big meat eater in general. I remember the first time I tried jerky. I was working in a family-run whole grain bread bakery. The bakers would come in at 2 am to start making the bread. By the time I got to the store after school, all the bread had been baked, and the bakers long gone. The store had this huge oven with shelves that rotated like a ferris wheel to bake the bread evenly. It was amazing, but it never really shut off (kind of like Lizzie, who always stays a little warm).

One of the bakers was also a hunter. When he had a successful season, he would make venison jerky on the off-day when they didn't bake. He would slide the pans into the oven, and it was my job to keep an eye on it while they dried. The whole back of the bakery would be filled with the smell of drying meat. It was fantastic.

I had never had jerky before, let alone venison (you want me to eat bambi?), so I was quite hesitant when he offered me that first slice. The first taste however, was so delicious - gamey, peppery, meaty. I was hooked. I used to sneak extra pieces out from the trays.

Since then, I have tried a lot of jerkies. The ones in the store are only good in moments of dried meat desperation. I have also tried several specialty outlets in the area. After eyeing the signs for Beef Jerky Unlimited we finally stopped for the first time last year (c'mon - a whole store of jerky? it sounded a little sketchy at first). They have a large selection of excellent jerky, including turkey and other game meats (although too expensive for my budget at the time). Also, Mom Wilson Sausage Mart on Rt 23 around Marion had good jerky. It's in the middle of no where, but a fun place to stop.

However, this past summer I purchased a dehydrator, in the hopes of making my own jerky. It isn't one of the fanciest machines, but it does have a top seated fan, and adjustable heat settings. With 5 trays, I can't make a full batch of jerky in one sitting, but I can easily make two batches in a day.

There are many theories about how to make jerky. First, there is the cut of meat. I have tried brisket (too tough) and flank steak (a little too fatty, and more expensive) before settling on our preferred round steak. London broil is also supposed to be a nice cut. Then, there is slicing technique - with or against the grain (or heaven forbid, ground and re-formed)? I choose mostly with the grain - I like the long strips, but still able to tear the stuff apart. Next, the seasoning. I use a marinade, however our friends, also jerky aficionadoes, use a dip method - the dip the meat in seasoning right before drying it.

So in your quest for jerky, you may have to explore some of these options.

I currently make two kinds of jerky - one that the Husband prefers, and one that I prefer. The Husband's preferred flavoring is Alton Brown's recipe (although not dried on the furnace filters). Alton's recipe is a classic jerky, but I also like a more asian flavor that really compliments the meat. This asian jerky is a little sweeter, with ginger and garlic.

Asian Beef Jerky

1 tsp 5 spice powder
2 teaspoons crushed red pepper (or to taste)
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons black vinegar (or balsamic or rice wine)
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 tbls garlic-chili paste
1 teaspoon Asian sesame oil
One 1-2 pound steak


Partially freeze meat. After removing from freezer, slice meat very thin (1/4 inch) with the grain.

In a medium saucepan, combine the soy sauce with the honey, brown sugar, vinegar, Worcestershire sauce and salt and cook over low heat, stirring to dissolve the sugars. Stir in the 5 spice, crushed red pepper, garlic, ginger and sesame oil. Transfer to a medium bowl and let cool.

Pour marinade over beef (I use a big plastic bag for all of this). Marinade 6 hours to overnight. Dry meat either in food dehydrator according to directions, or in an oven on the lowest heat setting possible until dry but still pliable (somewhere between 2 and 12 hours, depending on how thick you cut the meat).

I still have jerky fantasies about the elusive venison jerky. I have tried to convince the Husband to go out and shoot me some deer, but up to this point, he has declined, citing some sort of misunderstood moral adversion to killing. I told him that I didn't care, I want venison jerky dammit. We have agreed to disagree, and I am currently still trying to find someone to barter for some venison meat.

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