Urban Preservation II

An Outdoor Setting

GUESTS: Bikers #1, #2 and #3

[the Bikers are taking a snack break after riding]

BIKER #1: Aw, man. My candy bar's melted. Gimme some of your granola.
BIKER #2: Are you kidding, man. My wife's got me on a diet. I'm eatin' every bit of this crunchy stuff.
BIKER #3: You want half my egg salad sandwich?
B #1: How long's that thing been in your bag?
B #3: Since this morning.
B #2: Are you kidding me? Haven't you heard of the zone? That might as well be toxic waste.
B #3: Trade you for the candy bar.
B #1: Sure.
B #3: Okay.
AB: [rides up his motorcycle] Greetings, fellow snackers. Try this.
B #1: Beef jerky. Haven't had that since I was a scout.
B #3: That smells delicious.
B #2: Is it fattening?
AB: Oh, not to worry. Each piece is practically carb-free.
B #1: What's in it, then? Fat?
B #2: Oh, I hope it's not saturated.
B #3: Who cares? Can I have some more?
AB: Sure, help yourself. I've got plenty. And don't worry, there are fewer than two grams of fat in each serving. What you've got here, kids, is the perfect marriage of protein, flavor, and good old-fashioned chewiness. And it's naturally preserved. You know, American frontiersmen used to live on this stuff for months at a time. Properly packaged, jerky will keep for years without refrigeration. [rides away]
B #1: Who was that mysterious rider?
B #3: We'll probably never know.
B #1: Well that's a shame, 'cause this jerky sure is ...

["Good Eats" theme plays]

The Kitchen

GUEST: Deb Duchon, Nutritional Anthropologist

    Although the word "jerky" is an anglicized version of the Peruvian word ch'arki** referring to any number of dried meat applications originating in the high Andes, dried meat strips are known to just about every culture on earth. And in many cases, they represent the original prepared foods, even predating cooking itself.
    Now, to give us a little insight on this situation and to tell us how beef jerky may have come to be, we have our nutritional anthropologist, Deb Duchon. So, Deb, how do you think all this unfolded?

DEB DUCHON: Well, Alton, imagine you're an early Homo sapien sapiens hunting on the African savannahs some 65,000 years ago.
AB: Okay, what day of the week?
DD: What difference does it make?
AB: Well, I'm trying to get a visual picture here. You know ...
DD: Okay. Okay. It's Thursday.
AB: Okay, what time of day?
DD: You're hunting. It's morning.

African Savannah (Animation)

DD: You and a couple of buds have just brought down a wildebeest. After chomping your fill, you notice that the aroma of the kill has brought a party of proto-hyenas into range. Thinking that you might move on, you stash a leg in a tree in case you drop back by later in the day. You don't make it. But a month later, a rhinoceros runs you up that very same tree, and lo and behold, that leg is still there.

The Kitchen

AB: Wait a minute. Wait a minute. I know that the savannah is a barren place, but what are the odds that I would be run up the exact same tree, and ...
DD: Hey, who's the nutritional anthropologist here?
AB: [a bit sarcastically] By all means, continue.

African Savannah (Animation)

DD: Okay. After being up there a few hours, you get pretty hungry. So you rip off a little strip of the dark, shriveled leg, and surprise, it tastes great: chewy, meaty, and totally not rotten. When the rhino finally loses interest, you lug the leg—which is considerably easier to carry now that its moisture is gone—back home where it helps your clan survive the lean season, thus ensuring the continuation of your DNA.

The Kitchen

AB: [with growing excitement] Yeah, that's a great story. Yeah. I think I'll go take down a wildebeest! [exits]

Harry's Farmers Market: Marietta, GA – 2:15 pm

GUESTS: Announcer
              Meat Monger

    [looking in the meat case] Bad news, kids: no wildebeest. That means we are going to have to turn to the next-of-hoof—ha ha ha ... Bos taurus, or Bos indicus*, otherwise known as the American Beef Critter. The question of course, which cut?

ANNOUNCER: Well, Bob ...
AB: Alton.
ANNOUNCER: ... we've got three choices.
AB: Do tell.

ANNOUNCER: Behind window #1 we've got a luscious and lovely New York strip steak.
AB: Very nice.
New York Strip Steak
ANNOUNCER: Behind window #2 a juicy bottom round roast. A real hunger stumper, if you get my drift.
AB: I believe I do. And window #3?
Bottom Round
ANNOUNCER: Well, behind window #3 the cut for all seasons: the meaty, the flamboyant but flat, flank steak.
AB: Wow. I'm going to have to think this over.
Flank Steak

ANNOUNCER: You've got ten seconds.

    Okay, let's review what we know. We know that strip steaks, a good piece of meat, cut from the short loin, and they're cut across the grain. That means that, when dried, jerky made from such a piece of meat would look like this [shows a poor jerky specimen], and would kind of crumble, like that. Not exactly what I had in mind.
    Now, the bottom round, very tempting. There are some very large muscle groups, nice long muscle fibers, but the problem is they're hard to get to. A lot of home butchering involved. And you know? I've never been that impressed with the flavor of bottom round.
    Now that leaves us with the flank steak, which, with its flat shape and long, lean musculature, is bang-on perfect for this kind of application.

AB: So I am going to take the flank steak.
ANNOUNCER: Congratulations. And you will also receive some alligator wax.

The Kitchen

    Before we attempt any preservation via dehydration, perhaps we should examine some of the factors that make goodmeat go bad in the first place. Now, enzymes inside the meat are partially to blame. But, most of the damage is done by bacteria, mold, and yeast. Why? Well, fresh meat supplies all their needs: food, low acidity, and plenty of moisture. Go ahead, take a look. They're in there.

Inside the Meat

GUESTS: Microbes

    Given a little time at room temperature, your would-be dinner will become a veritable Club Med for every microbe that drifts through the room. [the microbe party is having fun at the pool] Oh, they'll come in droves, all right, and they will frolic at the pool, they will eat at the buffet, they will drink at the bar, and they'll go do their disgusting little mating ritual.
    If, however, you remove most of the water via air drying [the water in the pool drops dramatically], they will pack up and leave in droves. And of course, you could deflate their cells with salt ["salt" pellets begin hitting the microbes]. And you can even burn them down with a little bit of acid [microbe begins to smoke]. That would be fun. Either way, and pretty soon, your Club Med will revert to Club Dead. [the "pool" is vacant] Congratulations, your meat's preserved.

The Kitchen

    Now, I suppose, we could dry this meat out intact, but odds are very good that it would take so long to actually dry that it would spoil first. Besides, it would be kind of hard to eat that way. And we can get around both of these problems by increasing the surface-to-mass area of the meat; that is, cut it into strips.

Biltong is a dried & smoked meat of Southern Africa.

The Kitchen

    The goal here is to cut this into very narrow strips following the grain of the meat. Now, the grain is pretty easy to see in flank steak, but this job is still a challenge because the slab is, well, it's a little bit on the floppy side. The answer? We either wrap this in plastic or put it in a zip top bag and stash it in the freezer until it is almost, but not quite, solid. Actually, you could wrap it and freeze it solid, and then partially thaw it before you cut it up.

    Now, yes, I realize that freezing meat in a home freezer is a slow process, producing large ice crystals in the meat [holds up a bag of broken glass], which may, in turn, puncture cell walls, which would then weep moisture upon thawing. Now this inevitably results in drier cooked meat. But, if the meat's going to be dried out anyway, why freak out over a few perforated cell walls?

Professional glass breaker.
Do not try this at home.

    Now, contemplating knives I like to go with either a chef's knife or a santoku-style knife as opposed to a slicer. A long blade will probably get too much drag, so I like to work just with the tip. And just look for the line of the grain and start cutting. Don't worry about the fact that some of them are going to be a little shorter than others. In the end, we're looking for pieces that are, well, basically, kind of the size and shape of a small piece of bacon.

1 1/2 - 2 Pounds  Flank Steak

    There. Now, we could just take this giant bouquet of flavor and slap it on, I don't know, a fencepost someplace and dry it. But, if we bring a little marinade to the party, well, everything will change.

The Kitchen

    Notice that I said "marinade", instead of "brine". Now a brine is nothing more than salt water and it's got a good bit of preservative power. But we can make it an even more potent potion if we add an acidic ingredient. And to me, a marinade is basically a salty, acidic liquid.

    Now we will get our salt and our acid from two off-the-shelf sauces: namely, two-thirds of a cup of soy sauce, and two-thirds of a cup of Worcestershire sauce. Now you Worcestershire lovers might want to know that Worcestershire is based on an ancient Roman sauce called garum which was made from vinegar, grape must, and fermented fish entrails. Yum! 2/3 Cup Soy Sauce
2/3 Cup Worcestershire
    Now that's a good bit of salt, and we could potentially over-cure this meat so that it would become brittle when dry. So we're going to add a little bit of a hygroscopic ingredient—sugar in the form of honey, one tablespoons worth—to keep it from drying out too much. 1 Tbs. Honey
    Additional flavor will come from two teaspoons of black pepper—freshly ground, please—two teaspoons of onion powder which I like to use in marinades, one teaspoon of red pepper flake, and last but not least, one teaspoon of liquid smoke, which is pretty interesting stuff. Matter of fact, I like making my own. 2 tsp. Freshly Ground Black
2 tsp. Onion Powder
1 tsp. Red Pepper Flakes
1 tsp. Liquid Smoke

The Back Yard

    All you have to do is build yourself a still. Break out a grill, a smoker, or an outdoor fireplace, anything that has a chimney on it, and extend that chimney with a piece of heat ventilation pipe from the hardware store. That's going to allow the smoke to cool off so that it will be easier to gather. Now I just use a little collar of foil at the bottom so that it'll seat and I put another piece of foil up at the top. And I top that with a bundt pan, perfect for liquid smoke collection.
    Chuck in some burning charcoal and follow that with a couple of handfuls of well-soaked wood chips. Then, the actual distiller part. You're going to need to place a bowl that's a little narrower than the bundt pan on top. And you've got to prop it up for air flow with a couple of pieces of metal, I don't know, pencils, chopsticks, whatever. Then on top of that bowl  place a bag—a zip top—full of ice. That is going to chill the bowl and that'll force condensation which will then run down—as you can see here—into the bundt pan for easy gathering. Now this is basically the same way that whiskey and bourbon are made.
    Now about ten minutes later, you can come back, and you will notice that you've got probably about a tablespoon of liquid smoke accumulated in the bottom of the pan. Of course, the more wood you burn, the more liquid smoke you'll make. Yum.

The Kitchen

    Liquid smoke is in. Now, I do all of my marinating, at least all that I can, in zip top bags because it allows more contact between the marinade and the food. You just have to make sure that you get as much air out as possible. I also like it because you can mix like this [squeezes the bag around], which is kind of fun. In fact, if you've got small kids around the house, excellent job for them.
    Now once everything is mixed together, put that back into containment and stash in the refrigerator for three to six hours. Less than three wouldn't be enough for the cure to take; more than six, and things will get really, really salty. Once that's done, it's jerky, right?
    Having soaked for six hours, we have drained and pat-dried our jerky. Doesn't that look good? Mmmmm. [eats a piece] Delicious. A little bit smoky, a little bit hot, you know, but not too much. Got the Worcestershire and the soy in there. Very very meaty, but you know what? Something seems to be missing in our texture, because I would say that this is more floppy than jerky. Nope, it appears that we are going to have to apply some mechanical climatology.

If you've got access to game, venison round makes excellent jerky.

The Desert

GUEST: "W", Equipment Specialist

    You know, when people think dehydration they usually picture the desert, which is why nobody lives out here. [camera pans to a tent, then back to AB] Let's see if somebody's home.
    [knocks] Hello? What's this? It appears that I've stumbled into some kind of traveling culinary bazaar. And look, there's a deserted desert damsel in distress.

W: [she is in a "I Dream of Jeanie" costume] Who are you calling damsel?
AB: You're right. Veiled threat would be more appropriate.
W: I certainly hope we are not here just so that you could fulfill some silly, cheap, pathetic, adolescent Major Nelson fantasy, because I ...
AB: Ha ha ha. Don't worry, Jeannie ... Uh, W, W, ... um ... Although that sounds mighty fine, this is all really just a visual metaphor for what I really need which is a desert in a box, meaning, of course, a food dehydrator.
W: Well I don't have one.
AB: You don't have one.
W: Don't have one.
AB: Go ahead. Do the thing. Come on, do it. You know you want to.
W: [folds her hands and nods her head, food dehydrators appear]
AB: Sweet. Remind me to talk to you about Ferraris later. But in the meantime, tell me about these dehydrators.
W: Regardless of design, all food dehydrators are basically the same. The pieces of food are arranged on drawers or stackable stages that are lined with plastic or silicon mesh. A fan in the back or bottom of the enclosure circulates hot air through the food, thus drying it out.
AB: Well, that certainly looks like a desert to me.
W: That's the problem. Food dehydrators are like deserts.
AB: And that's a bad thing?
W: Yes.
AB: I'm not following you.
W: Why does that not surprise me? All right, look. [opens the flap of the tent] You stumble around out there for a few days, you're not going to dry up and die, you're going to cook ... literally.
AB: Eww.
W: Since dehydrators can't move enough air to quickly dry out the food, they have to depend on heat, sometimes up to 140 degrees.
AB: Ahhh, but wouldn't that result in the food in question having a completely different flavor and texture?
W: Bingo.
AB: Ahh, don't you mean, "Bingo, master"? Heh heh.
W: If you really want to dry something out, you need a totally different landscape.
AB: Like what?
W: [shoves AB outside, the landscape is now mountainous, and the environment is now freezing] Like the very arid, very windy, and very, very, very cold Peruvian highlands.
AB: Okay, I get it. Cool, dry air that's really moving is better for drying things out than the more humid, warm air. Yeah, okay, I got it. Now how do we get out of here?
W: Who's we, master? [folds her arms, nods her head, and disappears]
AB: Now that worked out well, didn't it?

The Kitchen

    So, if we want to mummify meat, we will need an arid, relatively cool, and very windy environment. Can we make that in our kitchen? No problem. Simply lay out your strips of drained and dried meat on top of the ridges of standard home furnace filters available at your local friendly hardware store for, I don't know, something like 99 cents. Then break out your – BLOWHARD 4000! [a box fan descends from above] Thank you, thank you. Now you may remember the Blowhard 3000 from our herb show. It's an excellent herb drier. But that was the 3000. This one's better because it's the ... it's the 4000. There. Okay. So, here's how you do it.

AB: [unhooks the box fan, the hook rises] Thank you.

    First, stack the filters thusly right on top of each other and then top that with one empty filter. There we go. Then, lay down your Blowhard 4000 and stack thusly. Then connect the bungee cords so that the hooks are just around the sides of the fan into the grate. Nice and secure.
    Now personally, I don't mind the house smelling like dried meat products. But if you or anyone in your home does mind that, just plug up your fan and kind of prop it up in your kitchen window blowing outward so that the smell goes out to someplace where it will be enjoyed, you know, like dogs, cats, and other critters and what not. Now the time on this will depend on your fan, on the density of your filters, and how thin you cut the meat. I usually start checking on it after about eight hours, but usually my batches take up to twelve. And don't worry, your patience will be rewarded.

If possible use cellulose rather than fiberglass based filters.

    Now, the only downside to this method is that you're not going to want to use these furnace filters in your furnace. I probably didn't have to say that. Now I realize this jerky is not very attractive. But believe me, this is the best stuff you will ever lock jaws on. As for storage, well, I would avoid zip top bags. These things have a tendency to hold moist air right up against the surface of the meat. That'll partially re-hydrate it and it'll be pushing up mold within a month. If, however, you use something nice and open, with plenty of room and air in it, well, this stuff will keep for about 40 years.

Egyptian tribes were drying fish & poultry as early as 12,000 B.C.

Camp Site: Tent

    You know, a lot of people think jerky when they go camping. It is, after all, the ultimate trail food. It doesn't have to be preserved, it's easy to keep, and it's gosh darn tasty. But did you know that most of the early American traders, trappers, cowboys, and frontiersmen who lived off of jerky actually used it as an ingredient in cooked foods, usually a stew, a soup, or even a gravy? Wanna make some? Okay!

    Well, let's say that we had three to four ounces of beef jerky, which I happen to have, say, I don't know 10 to 12 pieces—a nice big fistful. And cut that up with either a knife, or even better, scissors or shears. And just snip it into pieces. Smaller is always going to be better, but one inch, no longer. Now once you've got that cut up, pour over a cup, at least, of hot water, and let that steep. 3-4 Ounces Jerky
1 Cup Boiling Water
    Now while my jerky gently steeps, we will fire up some aromatics. So for that, crank up faithful camp stove, pop on a medium-size skillet, sauciér, or saucepan—it doesn't really matter—add one tablespoon of vegetable oil, thusly, over medium heat mind you, and add to that half a cup each of chopped onion and chopped green pepper. There we go. And we're going to put just a little bit of salt to that. Remember, the jerky itself is pretty salty so we just want to add enough to help bring out some moisture for the sweat. I'm going to stir this every now and then for, I'd say, four to five minutes or until the aromatics are nice and soft. 1 Tbs. Vegetable Oil

1/2 Cup Chopped Onion +
1/2 Cup Chopped Green
    Bell Pepper

Pinch Of Kosher Salt

    Aww, shoot. [messes up his harmonica playing, sits up and smells the veggies] Ahh. Now at this point in the cooking process you may start attracting bears or other predators. Everything looks okay. Time to add some garlic: two cloves either well-smashed or minced. There we go. Let that cook for another couple of minutes. 2 Cloves Garlic, Minced
    Okay, time to add the rest of the ingredients. First, the jerky and all of the soaking water goes in a 14.5-ounce can or carton of chopped tomatoes and a quarter cup of heavy cream. Yes, even in the wilderness, there is heavy cream. Just give that a stir and increase the heat so that we can bring that to a boil. And then we'll reduce it to a simmer. Oh, this would also be a very good time to add some additional flavorants, and I always travel with a little dried parsley. Just a teaspoon to two teaspoons will do nicely. There we go. Jerky & Liquid
14.5 Ounce Can Chopped
1/4 Cup Heavy Cream
1 tsp. Dried Parsley

    Mmmm, my, my, my. Would you just look at that meaty lava flow of love. Now let's contemplate a target food, shall we? Now, pasta would be very nice, as would be rice or even some Texas toast. But my favorite: biscuits, fresh-baked then split and toasted or broiled. Y+um. All you have to do is grab a ladle and you've got yourself a meal to do a cowboy proud.
    Well, I hope that we have given you a new respect for a very old food as well as the confidence to make it yourself. Not only is beef jerky a satisfying, nutritious snack, it is a flavor-packed ingredient as well that will bring a whole new dimension to your cooking. All in all, I'd say it's an ancient food for a new millennium, not to mention, seriously good eats.

*Bos indicus is the Zebu or "humped cattle". This from Wikipedia:
    "Zebus (Bos taurus), sometimes known as 'humped cattle', are better-adapted to tropical environments than other domestic cattle. Their scientific name was originally Bos indicus, but this name is now deemed invalid by ITIS, who classify the zebu under Bos taurus
along with all other domestic cattle, and their aurochs ancestors, domesticated in India about 10,000 years ago."

** ch'arki is from the Quechua Indians of central Peru and was a dominant element of the Inca Empire. (wikipedia.com)

Transcribed by Michael Roberts
Proofread by Michael Menninger

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Last Edited on 08/27/2010