Beef Jerky

Beef Jerky

Consider it low brow if you will, but there’s never been a tastier snack than beef jerky. Outside of its somewhat high sodium content, this protein-rich snack is a healthy detour from much of what people tend to nosh on during events like this weekends biggest event of the year, the Super Bowl. It’s relatively simple to make, requires a small amount of prep, and making it yourself is far cheaper than the pre-packaged, chemical-laced beef strips you find in the grocery store.

I had intended to post this weeks ago and didn’t, but the timing of the post now just seems appropriate, especially since PETAs Super Bowl ad was rejected by NBC earlier this week for being too racy. Gotta hand it to PETA. They may be a bunch of nut cases, but they’re a sexy bunch. Now pass the broccoli.

Here’s what you need to make your own beef jerky:

• 3-4 pounds of London Broil, trimmed completely of all fat
• Sharp non-serrated chefs knife
• Dehydrator
• Sea Salt
• Cracked black pepper
• Liquid Smoke

Sure, authentic beef jerky is hung to dry in large smokehouses for 12-24 hours, but who in the Hell owns a large smokehouse? Not me, and probably not you either. You don’t cook jerky – you dry it. Putting it in the oven to dry on low heat will dry it out, but not completely. A dehydrator is the best tool for the job, they’re not expensive to buy, and can be found in the appliance aisle of stores like Target, Wal-Mart, Bed Bath & Beyond, etc. Drying it out completely is important, because if it you don’t you certainly risk spoilage over time. The dehydrator works for this because there’s still enough oxygen present which prevents botulism.

What’s important to remember here is that drying meat preserves it. But simply drying it is not good enough to keep it around for long periods of time. This requires curing, and the easiest way to do this is to salt the meat heavily with sea salt or sodium nitrate, and allowing it to sit for couple of days at cold temperatures (the refrigerator works fine). This is also what gives your beef jerky that rich concentrated flavor.

Once you’ve obtained a nice slab of London Broil, trim as much fat off of the meat as you can, place the meat in a large zip lock bag and throw it in the freezer for 4 hours. Yes, the freezer. This is the slickest trick in the book and ensures that you’ll get super thin pieces of jerky. Once the meat is rigid enough to hold without bending, you’re golden. We want it chilled hard, but not frozen completely. When the meat is chilled hard enough to slice through, it allows you to cut very precise, thin slices of meat that would otherwise be a real pain in the ass to achieve if the meat were simply at room temperature.

Begin slicing the beef in strips 1/8′ to 1/4′ inch thick across the grain of the meat. You should end up with strips of beef 1-2 inches wide, 6-7 inches long, depending on the size of the roast you purchased. At this point, they should resemble a “meat bookmark.” Hey, we should think about marketing those. Write that down.

Salt the Hell out of the meat - really.

Place the strips on a large flat surface, season heavily with sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper. Don’t be shy with the salt – salt it well. Nothing tastes more drab than lightly salted dried beef. That may have been OK for the Indians, but it’s 2009 and we’ve got more sea salt than we know what do do with. Next, open the bottle of liquid smoke and gently give each meat strip a very light drop. DO NOT OVERDO IT WITH THE LIQUID SMOKE. This stuff is stronger than seal breath. Too much liquid smoke and you won’t even taste the beef, so take it easy.

Gently place the beef strips into a ziplock bag, squeeze as much of the air out of the bag as you can, close it tightly, and place the bag in your refrigerator for 24-48 hours.

When you’re ready to begin drying out your strips of beef, take the bag out of the refrigerator and allow the meat to come to room temperature before beginning the dehydration process, about 4 hours. Follow the instructions that come with your dehydrator to set it up. All you need to know is that the meat can be placed on the racks close together, but certainly not overlapping. The meat will shrink as the moisture is removed from it, so no matter how close together it is when it’s raw, there will be plenty of space when it’s finished. But overlapping pieces will not dry properly, so be careful.

Drying Jerky

When your meat is completely dry (doesn’t bend when you twist it) it’s finished. Place the finished pieces in another zip lock bag or airtight container, or enjoy immediately. This beef jerky will last a solid month or longer, but I wouldn’t know. It’s always gone within a few days after I make it. It’s one of the most requested snacks when I’m invited to parties for the “big game” or camping trips with the guys.

Episode 31 :: Brazilian

Brazilian

It took 31 episodes, but I finally managed to get Don (better known as HogDawg) from Dude Night on the show with me. We drink a bottle of home brewed Cherry Wheat Ale from Groucho & CHUD at The Beer Report (followed by 3 bottles of more strong ale), discuss the problems with the FDA, Food Network’s new show “Chopped”, and what food in Brazil is really like. If you’ve ever wondered what I sound like on 4 bottles of strong beer, this is your show. The slurring is not outdone by the F-bomb count, so beware. It’s Dude Night meets My Life as a Foodie.

In this episode:
• “Broken Cherry Wheat Ale” from Groucho & CHUD at The Beer Report
• Whistle blowers at the FDA contact the Obama transition team
• “American produce VS the world’s produce” according to Don
• To no one’s surprise, Food Network’s new show “Chopped” is a steaming pile
• Brazilian food
• Beef Jerky at home – quick, easy, simple, and the best Super Bowl Party snack

Download episode 31 here.

Music in this episode by Intermix and Lovetronic. Download “You are love” in the iTunes store.

Molecular Cooking – my new true passion

Chemistry in the Kitchen

The first time I’d seen or even heard of Molecular Gastronomy was the now infamous episode of Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations “Decoding Ferran Adria.” I had no idea who Adria was, nor had I heard of his world renouned restaurant ElBulli, neatly tucked away in Roses, Spain. The episode changed my entire perception of how creative you can actually be in the kitchen. And being creative is all I’m ever after, in everything I do. It’s the one reason I’m as addicted to cooking as I am, and that includes brewing.

Originally filmed for his Food Network show “A Cook’s Tour” (and apparently only ever airing on Food Network Canada) “Decoding Ferran Adria” is now the most talked about episode of No Reservations. It was so popular, the single episode appeared on DVD within a month of it’s release. You can buy it on Amazon.com here or watch it online here. Shortly after the episode aired, I watched it again, and again, and again.

I sat in awe as he ate things I’d never even heard of. carrot air, pasta-less pea ravioli, apple caviar, cured tuna belly sliced so thin you need tweezers to eat it. And as far as I knew, the only way to ever experience food like this was a reservation to ElBulli, which – as it turns out – is harder to get than an admission of guilt from OJ Simpson.

So imagine the ray of sunshine that shined upon me the day I read this post from Jo at My Last Bite, a blog dedicated only to good food, not bad. Like most of us, Jo is a very good home chef in her own right. And after taking a class on molecular cooking, she posted photos and recipes from it. I couldn’t believe a class like that even existed, let alone available not that far away from my door. Jo posted links to online stores that sold the special food-grade chemistry that’s needed to accomplish these dishes, as well as her step-by-step instructions on how to actually do it in your own kitchen.

If you’ve listened to Episode 30 of My Life as a Foodie, you know the rest. I’m out to try this myself. And if I’m successful at it, dinner parties may never be the same again.

Chemistry in hand, equipment at the ready, I recently attempted my first dish using the tricks and theories laid out by Herve This, Ferran Adria, Grant Achatz, and the like. Apple Caviar seemed like the most approachable thing to try. Jo had already created Pink Grapefruit Caviar, the steps were there, as was her recipe.

Since I wanted this to be a bit different, I decided to infuse 9 ounces of fresh apple juice with sprigs of fresh rosemary from my garden. This sat all day, making sweet sweet rosemary/apple love.

Rosemary Infusion

I separated the rosemary from the apple juice, tasted a bit of it to make sure the balance was right, then added 1 gram of Sodium Alginate to the juice and blended it with an immersion blender in a bowl for a full minute. The result was a foamy, gooey liquid that seemed to resemble the slimy stuff from Ghostbusters, but smelled like rosemary and apples.

Once strained, I let it set until the foamy stuff settled. Then I put the mix into a plastic squeeze bottle. Per Jo’s instructions, I mixed 3 grams of Calcium Chloride with 18 ounces of cold water. This is the calcium bath that will make the outsides of the finished caviar hard enough to hold the goo together. It seems that alginate makes a gel out of any juice it’s mixed with, but on it’s own it’s just a gel. In the presence of Calcium, it holds together.

OK, kids – everyone in the pool!

Making Caviar

Some of you who are old like me will remember Sea Monkeys when you were a kid. If you do, you’ll recall the excitement of staring at that little jar of water that you’ve added dehydrated brine shrimp to, waiting for the little shrimp to come to life and start dancing around in the water. Well, if you recall the excitement of that, you’ll know just how excited I was as I dropped these balls of apple gel into this calcium bath and started seeing these perfectly round balls forming. It actually works.

After a minute in the calcium bath, I used my small metal strainer to carefully fish the caviar balls out of solution, and into a bowl full of fresh, clean water. This rinses the calcium off of the finished caviar. Out of that bath, gently dried on a clean towel, and into a serving spoon. I garnished it with a small rosemary flower.

Finished Caviar

They were gentle balls of rosemary goodness that squirted apple juice in your mouth as you ate them. It was magic, and I was instantly hooked. Sure, there’s attention to detail involved, and patience – but it’s all worth it. Anytime you’re doing something you really love doing, and you’re being creative – that’s not work. It’s a genuine feeling of zen for me.

I plan on doing this again, with less of an infusion (just a bit too much rosemary this time). After that, I’m going to patiently wait for the next molecular cooking class being held in Los Angeles (February 22nd) so I can get some hands-on professional training from Chef Michael Young. After that, it’s on to foams, pea ravioli, and God knows what else.

Stay tuned, and check out Jo’s blog for her continued adventures in Molecular Cooking. And by the way, don’t ever hire a cat for a sous chef. They’re worthless in the kitchen, and they sleep on the job.

Clarke is not a chef

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Episode 30 :: A New Beginning

A New Beginning

The birth of a new year always brings hope of new things, and certainly new beginnings. In this episode, we dismiss 2008 as a distant memory, discuss all of the exciting things that happened over Christmas (including some new food revelations of my own), a great new food blogger that I’ve started following, my first foray into the world of making Ice Cream, new things to look for on the show this Spring, and a whole lot more. We’ll discuss the keys to making authentic Cassoulet, and drink a great beer courtesy of our friend Scott.

In this episode:

• What I got for Christmas (more than you, I’ll tell you that)
• Ice Cream in December – total comfort food
• Exciting new shows ahead, including a visit from HogDawg
• Berliner Weiss from New Glarus (thanks Scott!)
• The key ingredients to making Duck Confit, and authentic Cassoulet
• Burger King’s FLAME body spray
• The hairy crab – China’s economic barometer
• The Parmigiano-Reggiano industry bail out
• Jo at “My Last Bite” is perhaps the coolest and kindest person in the entire blogesphere (visit her two blogs My Last Bite and Food Whores)
• Diving head first into Molecular Gastronomy . . . excuse me, “Cooking”
• A bacon lovers wet dream
• YELP is actually a big waste of time

Download Episode 30 here.

Music in this episode from Does It Offend You, Yeah? and Andian.

Happy New Year, kids. Here’s to great things!

Cassoulet

Cassoulet

Happy New Year, everyone! I hope you’re all safe, warm, and with your families. I’m sure it’s cold wherever you are, so I have the perfect meal for you.

With cold weather comes our favorite comfort food dishes. Everyone has their favorite. Most are almost always soups and stews. When I first flipped through my copy of Anthony Bourdain’s Les Halles Cookbook, one of the first things that popped out at me was his recipe for Cassoulet, the classic French bean stew. It’s true peasant food, and it’s my kind of peasant food.

It’s a fantastic dish to make, delicious to eat, and really not hard at all. Best of all, it doesn’t take a whole Hell of a lot of time, as long as you spread the work over three days. There are several tasks, none of them very involved. Simple food is the best food after all, right?

You’ll be making duck confit, which is something that is delicious in and of itself. So even if you don’t want to go through the trouble of making the cassoulet portion, at least try the confit. Believe me, it’s heaven. Once made, it will last in your refrigerator for weeks. So if you want, you can make the confit first, and get to the cassoulet later.

To make duck confit you’ll need:
4 duck legs
2 cups duck fat
4 sprigs fresh thyme
1 sprig fresh rosemary
1 garlic clove
sea salt
freshly cracked black pepper

On a clean cutting board, generously season the duck legs with the sea salt. Place in a shallow casserole dish, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

The next day, remove the duck legs from the refrigerator, preheat your oven to 375 degrees F, then melt the duck fat in a saucepan over low to medium heat until it’s clear, remove from heat. Crack a small amount of black pepper over each duck leg, place the thyme, rosemary, and garlic with the duck legs, then cover the whole thing with the rendered duck fat. Cover the casserole dish with foil and put it in the oven. Cook for one hour. The meat should be tender enough to be able to pull the ankle of each leg from the joint without a whole lot of effort.

Cool the whole thing, then put it in the refrigerator as-is, sealed under the layer of fat. When you’re ready to use the confit, simply take them out of the fat, removing the excess fat. You can also warm it up to loosen the fat, which makes removing the legs easier, but it could dry them out, so be careful.

To prepare the cassoulet you’ll need:
5 cups white beans (northern white beans are my favorite)
2 lbs fresh pork belly
1 onion, quartered
1 bouquet garni (one sprig of parsley, 2 sprigs of thyme, and one bay leaf – tied together or in a small cloth bag)
1/4 cup duck fat
6 pork sausages
3 onions, thinly sliced
1 garlic clove
4 confit duck legs
sea salt
pepper

Place the beans in a large bowl and cover with water, leaving 2-3 inches of water above the beans. Soak overnight.

The next day, drain and rinse the beans and place them in a large pot. Add one pound of the pork belly, the quartered onion, and the bouquet garni. Cover with water, add some salt and pepper, then bring to a low simmer. Allow to simmer until the beans are tender – about an hour or so. Let the whole thing cool for about 30 minutes, then remove the onion and the bouquet garni. Carefully remove the pork belly, cut into 2-inch squares and set aside. Strain the beans, but save the liquid. That broth has all the flavor and we’re going to use it later.

In a saute pan, place 1/4 duck fat and render it over medium heat. When it’s clear, add the sausages and brown them on all sides. Remove them and set them aside, draining on paper towels. In that same pan, add the onions, the garlic clove, and the squares of pork belly and brown them together. When that’s all browned, add it to the blender with 2 tablespoons of the reserved stock and puree until smooth. Set this all aside.

Preheat your oven to 350 – it’s game time. Place the remaining pork belly (uncooked) in the bottom of a deep ovenproof earthenware dish. Line the inside of this with the porkbelly as if you were making a pie crust with it. In alternating layers, add the beans, then the sausages, then some more beans, then the duck confit, then some more beans, sausages, more beans, adding a dab of the blended puree to each layer. Pour the bean broth over all of this to just cover the top layer of beans. Save at least 1 cup of this broth in case we need it later.

Place that in the oven, uncovered, for 1 hour. After an hour, reduce the heat to 250 degrees F and cook for another hour. Remove from the oven and allow to cool. Refrigerate overnight.

When you’re ready to have this the next day, remove it from the refrigerator, preheat your oven to 350 degrees F and cook the whole thing for an hour. Break the crust along the top with a spoon and add that 1 cup of reserved cooking liquid. Reduce the heat to 250 degrees F and continue cooking for an additional 15 minutes. We want this thing to be hot from top to bottom.

Serve with a bottle of red burgundy, or a Belgian Quadruple or Dark Strong Ale.