Thursday, January 7, 2010

Homemade Beef Jerky, you'll want to read this one

I've been making beef jerky for quite a few years. I don't remember when I first made it but it must have been sometime back in the late 70's or early 80's. I've never had a smoker or dehydrator, I've just used the kitchen oven on a low setting to dry out the meat after I've marinated it.
I've made lots of different jerky recipes over the years. In fact, I doubt I've ever made it the same way twice. Partly this is because I keep trying new things and partially because I always have different ingredients available in the cupboard. I've never made a batch that wasn't snapped up immediately upon offering it to folks. I don't know if this is because of the way I make it or the fact that few meat eaters will turn down free beef jerky. Whatever the reason, I get pretty good reviews.
Wait a minute. Now that I think about it I did get one kind of negative reaction to my "recipe." In an internet forum I visit once in a while someone asked about beef jerky recipes. I posted up how I make it and thought that would be the end of it. Shortly thereafter someone else kind of chastised me for putting all the stuff into the marinade. Seems this individual thought dried meat should be made the way the native folks made it with nothing added to it, or just a bit of salt added. Well, that's fine and I'm sure some people like it that way. But I didn't think that's what the original recipe seeker was looking for and it's not what I'd be looking for if I was asking about jerky recipes. I'm not drying meat as a survival food or to see me through the winter, I'm not making it as an exercise in paleo cooking. I'm making it because I like to eat it and enjoy sharing it with my friends, and most of us like some seasoning with it.

Ok, enough of that! Let's make some kick butt Clan Taylor Beef Jerky!

Meat - I just get what's cheap. When the London broil cut comes on sale, that's what I use. I've used flank steak and brisket before and both work great, but they are a little costly. The London broil is a good slab of meat, relatively free of fat, and it goes on sale fequently. Remember, I almost always buy my meat when it's on sale.
Marinade - For convenience sake I generally get a big jar of teriyaki marinade to use as my base. I've also used soy sauce with great results. If you choose soy sauce you may want to consider mixing it with water so it's not too salty. I don't generally have that issue with teriyaki.
Spices - Use whatever you want.
No, seriously. Use whatever sounds good to you. I tend to pick the spices I use in two ways: it sounds good or I'm tired of looking at it in the cupboard.
I usually like to make my jerky a little (or a lot) spicy. I've used chili powder, salsa, fresh chilis, taco sauce, Tabasco sauce... it's all good.

Here's what I used this time.
Teriyaki marinade, onion, fresh garlic, black pepper, granulated garlic, Tabasco sauce, ground chili powder, cayenne powder, oregano, coriander seeds, dried chili flakes, Jamaican jerk seasoning, Vietnamese hot chili sauce, liquid smoke flavoring.
Here's an example of how I arrive at some of my seasonings decisions:
  • The ground black pepper has been in the cupboard for a long time and I don't use it since I started grinding it fresh, use that stuff up.
  • I've got four bottles of Tobasco, let's use one up.
  • Can't have too much garlic, let's go for fresh and granulated.
  • Coriander is used on South African biltong, must be good - in it goes.
  • Jerk sauce is seriously good stuff, can't miss that.
  • Vietnamese hot chili sauce... oh, yeah. 'Nuff said.

I'm going to toast the coriander seeds in an iron skillet to bloom out their flavor.
After toasting the seeds I crushed them with the bottom of a jar. Seriously fine smell in the kitchen at this point.

To bring all the flavors together I'll simmer the marinade for a short time. First picture is all the dry stuff, the second is with the marinade added.
Hmm, I may have went overboard on the coriander.

Here's what I got for meat. Two good pieces, not a lot of fat to trim off and lose. If the fat is left on it can go rancid after a bit. On the other hand, a little fat does taste good. I'm not really picky when I trim the fat. I get the big stuff off but I don't worry about small pieces.

The meat needs to be sliced into somewhat thin strips. Partially freezing the meat will make it easier to cut but I've found that good sharp knives make this pretty unnecessary.
The sweeping blade design of these knives is great for cutting slices. I can get a whole slice off with one motion. Sawing back and forth with the wrong knife or a dull knife will give ragged edges on the meat. The jerky will still taste great but won't look quite as nice.
I got that bottom knife at a flea market or in a junk shop somewhere. It's good quality carbon steel and takes a fine edge. It's a seriously big knife and I don't use it very often, but when I reach for it it's the best tool for the job and a real pleasure to use.

If you cut the meat across the grain, like these pieces have been, the jerky will be more tender for chewing.

These pieces were cut with the grain. They'll be a little tougher to chew but won't fall apart if I have them in my pocket while I'm hiking or hunting.
Really, either way will work fine.

Here's what I got from those two pieces of meat. This should make a pretty good amount of jerky.
There's that ugly green bowl again... still taking donations for a prettier one. I'm up to $ .75 ( found it in the washing machine).

The cooled marinade is poured over the meat and everything is mixed well. Now it's into the refrigerator for an overnight marinade.

Here's what it looks like the next day.
At this point I can't begin to describe how incredibly good this smells.

Just so the meat isn't quite as drippy as I get it into the oven, I've poured it into this colander to drain a bit.

A very rare self-portrait of the mad chef. Would you eat food from this character?

To prep the oven I've removed one rack and moved the other to the top position.
The bottom of the oven has been lined with aluminum foil. Until the meat reaches a particular levl of dryness the marinade will drip onto the bottom of the oven. Without foil down there to catch the drips I'd have a heck of a mess to clean up.

This step can be a little messy so I do the work over the bowl and have a paper towel down to catch other drips. Each piece of meat has a toothpick poked through one end and it is then hung on the rack. The meat dangles below and the toothpick keeps it from falling down.

Alrighty, the meat is all hung to dry. The oven is put on the lowest temperature. If you have an older oven with a pilot light that's probably just about perfect. Ours is temperamental so I go for the lowest setting and leave the door partly open so it doesn't get too hot inside. Remember, you're drying the meat, not cooking it.
I'll probably leave this in overnight. It should be done in the morning and I'll continue with this then.

One thing I'm interested in is the yield from this meat. I've saved the meat package information so after the jerky is done we'll be able to see how much I've ended up with as well as how much it costs per ounce to compare with store bought jerky.

Thanks for reading!

Ok, the night has passed and the jerky is done.
I had a little bit of a challenge last night. Our old stove was being persnickity and wouldn't hold a low temperature. By the time I realized this the jerky was a little dry already. I turned off the stove and put a 75watt light inside with the door closed. That seemed to do the trick for the rest of the night because the jerky looks great today.

Out of the oven, toothpicks removed, and in that old green bowl. They don't stack well in the bowl but that's still a pretty good sized pile of jerky.

It turned out to be 27 oz.

The meat was $1.99 lb for a total of $8.32.
Supplies for the marinade were about $7.00. I didn't keep good track of how much I used of what spice so I'm guesstimating on the generous side.
Total of $15.32. I am not going to factor in the cost of gas or electricity.
We're looking at $ .57 per ounce cost for the jerky. Last I looked, store bought jerky was quite a bit more than that so this looks like a pretty good deal financially.
This can also be a great family activity, especially if you have kids.
Besides, how cool is it to make your own beef jerky?

Happy cooking and thanks for reading.

Monday, January 4, 2010


I have a confession to make:
I've never made croutons.
I know, they're so easy, why have I waited so long? Well, truth to tell, the store bought croutons satisfied me, I thought they tasted good.
But, the other day I pulled a box out of the cupboard to put some on my dinner salad. The box was at the back of the top shelf and had gotten forgotten since I bought it. It must have been fairly old because when I opened it up it had moths in it (we've been having a moth issue lately and they have infected more than a few items).
Since I uncharacteristically had a partial loaf of white sandwich bread available I decided that that was the night I would learn to make croutons.

After some internet searches and came up with a basic recipe:
De-crust five slices of white bread and cut them into cubes.
Saute a couple minced garlic cloves in olive oil and butter.
Toss the bread cubes in the butter/oil/garlic mixture and let things cool a little.
I made a mixture of Parmesan cheese, thyme, oregano, and parsley and tossed the bread cubes in a paper bag with the herbs.
Bake the seasoned bread cubes at about 300° in a black iron spider, stirring occasionally, until brown.

The results were great!
However, I will do a couple things different next time.
For the Parmesan cheese I only had a tub of shaved cheese. While I tried to break it up to approximate grated cheese I had limited success. Excess cheese baked into chewy globs in the pan. They didn't taste bad but a smaller amount of grated Parmesan cheese will be better.
Rather than mince fresh garlic I will try using powdered garlic to toss with the rest of the herbs. I think this will get into the bread better. Although, it won't flavor the oil/garlic. I'll have to see which one I like best.

Bread, 5 slices, about to go under the knife.

The aftermath.

Sauteeing the minced garlic in olive oil and butter.

Tossing bread cubes in the garlic/oil/butter. I did end up adding a sprinkling more olive oil when it looked like some cubes didn't get any.

Herbs, from left, thyme, oregano, Parmesan cheese. The parsley flakes were camera shy.

Partway through the toasting. You can see the lumps of cheesy herbs that are forming from the excess Parmesan cheese.


If we're going to talk about croutons we may as well talk about the salad they're going on.
This is a good example of the extreme salads I like. Lettuce, bleu cheese, tomatoes, red onion, cucumber, anchovies, and rotisseried chicken breast. I forgot to add the salami... dang it.
I picked up the bleu cheese at Jon's Market recently when I was in that area and it absolutely rocks! It's creamy and delicious, not at all dry and crumbly. All I remember is that it was made in Germany. I'll definitely be getting more of this.

It doesn't look like much but it's sure going to taste good.
Sorry I don't have a more photogenic bowl. I am accepting donations to get one.

Tossed, croutons added, we're ready for lift off.

Sorry, I didn't get a picture of the empty bowl. you've seen one dirty dish you've seen them all, eh?

I'm very pleased to add croutons to my skills. Fayme really enjoyed them (she ate the ones I didn't use like popcorn), I liked them, and they're easy and fun to make. I guess now I'll have to buy white bread once in a while.

Thanks for reading!

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Japanese Pickled Cabbage - Hakusai no Shiozuke... this is good stuff!

I love Japanese food. Given a chance I will eat that over any other international food type.

One of the dishes I particularly like is generally called tsukemono, pickled vegetables. When I have had it, tsukemono is typically served as an appetizer at the beginning of the meal. One of the types I really enjoy is a pickled Napa cabbage, called hakusai no shiozuke in Japanese.

It took me a long time to track down a recipe for this tsukemono. For a long time I had no idea what it was called. Finally, one day, a Google search turned up something good in my search for this simple dish. The Instructables site has how-to directions on a lot of things but I didn’t really expect to find food, and especially not my cherished pickled Napa cabbage. Yet, here it was. How could I not try making it?

I find it rather amusing that this dish differs from sauerkraut only in the type of cabbage used and how long it is allowed to ferment. If I’d known it was so easy to make I’d have made gallons of it by now.

You can visit the Instructables site for the hakusai no shiozuke recipe here, and you can also read my brief synopsis of it:
Cut the cabbage, layer it in a container and salt each layer. Put a plate on the top layer and use a weight to hold it down. The salted cabbage will develop a liquid that should cover the cabbage after a day or so. Let it ferment for a couple days and give it a taste. Refrigerate when done and start eating it.

The recipe is a little vague on how much salt to use. It seems as if it’s a personal preference thing. After tasting my dish I think I’ve used a little more salt than I like. It’s better when I rinse the cabbage in fresh water before eating it but I think I’ll use a bit less salt the next time I make this.
After a day had passed the cabbage still hadn’t made enough liquid to cover itself so I mixed a bit of salt water and poured that into the container. Next time I’ll probably use a slightly weaker salt solution if this is necessary.
After rinsing the cabbage and drying it in a salad spinner (new toy!) I sprinkled on a bit of soy sauce and some furikaki (dried fish flakes, sesame seeds, and seasonings - very tasty). I also tried it with some seasoned rice vinegar sprinkled over it. Both were very good.
If you get as caught up with the possibilities of tsukemono as I have you may wish to get a recipe book and a press. Amazon has Quick & Easy Tsukemono: Japanese Pickling Recipes available as well as Tsukemono presses available in various sizes. When I have a bit of extra money on hand I’ll be getting both.

Here is where we start: fresh Napa cabbage, salt, a fermenting container, and a nice sharp cleaver... hurray, I get to cut stuff!

Laugh all you want about me enjoying cutting things in the kitchen but good tools really makes it a lot of fun. This Chinese pattern cleaver is one of the sharpest tools I have and makes things easy.

We've put the cabbage into the container by layers and salted each layer as it's put in.

It's difficult to see here but I found a clear glass plate to be the best size for this container. I used another plastic container full of water to rest on top of the glass plate to hold the cabbage down. The big secret in fermenting vegetables like this is to keep the vegetables beneath the layer of salt water. You don't want them to be exposed to the air. When the cabbage didn't form enough of its own liquid to cover I just aded in a bit of salt water to cover.

Done and about to undergo the first taste test. The whole cabbage packed into that little seaweed container to put into the refrigerator. If you look closely you can see the furikake I put on top of the cabbage.

Tsukemono is a great little side dish and it's incredibly easy to make. I will certainly be making more hakusai no shiozuke in the future as well as other types of Japanese fermented vegetables.
Happy eating!