[This will be the last of my archival posts as I get my notes together from the Italy trip and try to catch up on 5000 emails I ignored while traveling the hillsides of Tuscany and the flatlands of Emilia-Romagna. I chose this one because I recently made some compulsively good jerky using a recipe from Adam Sappington, of Portland's Country Cat Dinner House and Bar. Instead of the below seasonings, he uses tons of brown sugar, celery seed, onion and garlic powder—awesome. Please feel free to improvise. One key issue for me now: find hand raised beef. Supermarket beef just doesn't cut it for me when its dry cured, mainly I think because you're simply concentrating the bad quality.]
Among the most easy and satisfying preservation techniques is beef jerky: cut strips of lean beef (the less expensive the cut the better), salt and season them, let them cure for a day in the fridge, then spread them out on a rack to dry. When my daughter asked me to buy some at the store, I made the above instead.
I love the fact that it's a useful form of preservation. A friend I met in a wooden boat yard was formerly a cowboy who worked the land from Texas to Canada, tending and protecting cattle, birthing calves over huge expanses of territory, often alone for long stretches. He says he jerked, or dried, meat whenever he killed anything, such as deer. When his food ran out, he’d butcher one of the cattle. That would leave him if he was alone or even traveling with several others, too much meat. Robert would cut the meat in thin strips, salt it if he had salt, keep it in a shady cool spot during the day (it would become rancid in the sun), then hang it at night. If he was on the move, he said, jerky was important because you could carry a lot of it easily, it weighed so much less than fresh meat.
For this reason, jerky remains a great item to make for long camping trips. This same method works well with venison. Typically, lean meat was used, which dried more thoroughly and thus lasted longer, since even preserved fat can become rancid. The round is about as bland and tasteless a cut as you can find, but through curing, seasoning and drying you can transform it into something superlative and useful.
The following recipe is adapted from Charcuterie. We'd begun with soy as one of the seasonings. Brian changed it to chipotles in adobo. Because I had some chipotles ground in the spice mill, I used that. The technique is infinitely variable. Season it with flavors you love.
Chiptole Beef Jerky
2-½ pounds/1 kilogram beef, eye of the round or lean round, all fat trimmed away
¾ ounces/20 grams kosher salt (about 1-½ tablespoons)
1 ¾ teaspoon/10 milliliters garlic powder
1 ¾ teaspoon/10 milliliters onion powder
2-4 teaspoons ground chipotles
Cut the beef into thin strips about a ⅛th-inch/1/4 centimeter thick and an inch wide (length is not critical). Combine the remaining ingredients and toss to coat evenly. Cover and refrigerate for 24 hours. Place strips on a rack over a pan so that all sides dry. Dry the beef at 90 degrees F./32 degrees C. for 16-20 hours. If your oven does not go to 90 deg., try the lowest setting with the door propped open, checking every so often. Depending on the climate and conditions where you live, the beef may dry well at room temperature. The beef should be dry to the touch, dark, and very stiff. If completely dried and stored in an airtight container this beef jerky will keep for several months or longer at room temperatur.