Monday, March 5, 2012

Home-made beef jerky

There's nothing like chomping on a strip of lean, spicy dried meat when you're out hiking in the wild or stuck on a long car journey with no easy access to nutritious, satisfying food. High-quality protein eaten at regular intervals throughout the day can stave off cravings for sweet snacks and helps sustain energy. And because dried meat is a highly concentrated source of nutrients, little will go a long way.

What makes this healthy?  First, we're avoiding the no-no's of most commercial jerky: excess sodium, sugar, artificial flavorings and preservatives. Conversely, the marinade used here brims with healthy ingredients: ginger, turmeric, pepper, lemon, red wine, raw cocoa powder, tomato paste, onions, garlic, cinnamon and apricots. Not only do these create a delicious bouquet of flavors, they also have a range of anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties that may work together synergistically to protect us from disease. 

As the meat is being dried rather than cooked, it’s important to use super-fresh meat for this recipe that’s been kept well chilled from the minute it left the butcher shop until the moment you start preparing the jerky. Once you get started, make sure your hands and all implements (chopping boards, knives, roasting grills) are spotless. Sorry to sound obsessive, but I don’t want you catching some nasty bug…

2 kg/4lb lean meat (e.g. beef:  or skinless duck breast), cut into slices of about 1/8 inch/3mm thick, flattened with a meat tenderizer and cut into strips about 6-4 cm2-3 inches long.

For the marinade:
4 onions, coarsely chopped
2 heads garlic (cloves peeled and coarsely chopped)
14 oz/400g tomatoes (fresh, coarsely chopped, or from a jar)
3 tbsp tomato paste
fresh ginger (about 1 inch/2 cm piece), finely grated
3 tsp ground turmeric
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
2 tbsp pure cocoa (unsweetened)
1 tsp allspice
½ tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp cinnamon
½ bottle of organic red wine
scant ½ cup/100 ml soy sauce
12 dried apricots
juice of 2 lemons

Place all ingredients for the marinade in a saucepan, cover and bring to boil. Simmer over low heat for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and leave to cool for about 20 minutes.

Blend into a smooth paste with a liquidizer or hand-held pureeing device. Pour this into a large container with a tight-fitting lid, Add the sliced ​​meat and mix well to coat with marinade on all sides. Seal tightly and marinate in refrigerator overnight.

The next day, lay out meat slices on metal grills (you can pack the meat quite tightly as it will shrink substantially during drying). 

Preheat oven to 70°C/160°F (the temperature at which bacteria are destroyed). Slide in meat grills (place a baking sheet underneath so you don’t mess up your oven) and bake for ½ hour. Then lower temperature to 55°C/135°F for the remainder of the drying process. (These are the temperatures recommended by the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service to ensure that any pathogens are killed. Click here for the official government guidelines on jerky-making.)

Dry for about 8 hours, leaving the oven door slightly ajar (stick a wine cork or other small object in the door to let the evaporating moisture escape). The jerky is ready when it has shrunk to nearly half its original size/weight and looks like leather pliable but dry.

Place jerky in a hermetically sealable container. Keeps for several weeks in the fridge.

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