First grade starts in less than two weeks and the talk coming from my little girl is more about lunches than what to wear on the first day. With my daughter, it's never a sure thing if she'll eat her whole lunch, but if there's a piece of sweet and salty jerky nearby, she's sure to mow it. So with school on the horizon and a beckoning London Broil at the neighborhood butcher, all signs this week pointed to making a big batch of jerky.
The technique I use doesn't require a dehydrator and is borrowed from the Lobel's Meat Bible. The most difficult thing about making homemade jerky is slicing the meat evenly; freezing it ahead of time helps tremendously (and if you want to try this recipe with turkey, you'll want an even firmer freeze). Also, using a very sharp, long knife is key.
Both turkey and beef work well with the sesame, soy, and ginger flavors I use in my marinade below (with optional heat from chili paste), so this is a good place to start. Once you get the technique down, play around with the seasonings. I love a spicy jerky, so this time I made two batches: one with chili and lots of cracked black pepper, and one without. You know what flavors you like so don't be afraid to get bold here, and don't forget you can divide batches; one flank steak makes a lot of jerky. More than enough for mother and child, and all of their friends.
Homemade JerkyAdapted from Lobel's Meat Bible
Makes 1 to 2 pounds
3 pounds flank steak (London Broil) or boneless, skinless turkey breast
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup sesame oil
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons chili-garlic paste, optional (See Recipe Note)
2 tablespoons sesame seeds
2 teaspoons ground pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons powdered ginger
Unwrap the meat, pat it dry with paper towels, and set it on a plate or baking sheet. If using a flank steak that is folded up in its packaging, uncurl it. Cover the meat with plastic wrap and freeze it for 1 to 2 hours until firm but not frozen solid.
Using a very sharp chef's knife, trim off and discard any excess fat or tendons. With your knife parallel to the cutting board, carefully slice the thick slab of meat into two thinner pieces, as if you were butterflying a chicken breast (see second photo from the top, above). Then cut each piece of meat into thin strips 1/8-inch to 1/4-inch thick. Most pieces will be 4 to 6 inches long, though some tidbits may be smaller. You can cut your strips either against the grain for the classic chewy jerky look and feel, or with the grain, which will produce a more sinewy texture.
Combine the soy sauce, sesame oil, brown sugar, chili-garlic paste, sesame seeds, ground pepper, and ginger in a large zippered plastic bag or glass baking dish. Add the sliced meat and coat with the marinade. Refrigerate for at least 3 hours, preferably overnight, turning a few times to distribute the marinade.
When you are ready to dry the jerky, remove the meat from the refrigerator and let it come to room temperature for about an hour.
Meanwhile, remove the racks from the oven, line the bottom of the oven completely with foil, and then turn on the oven to pre-heat to 175°F. Maintaining a steady 175°F is really important so so use an oven thermometer to confirm that the temperature reaches 175°F and remains there. You may have to prop open the door an inch or two with a wadded up dishtowel or hot pad in order to maintain the temperature.
Spray the oven racks with nonstick cooking spray. Alternatively, leave the oven racks in the oven, line as many baking sheets as will fit into your oven with foil, and place cooling racks inside each baking sheet.
Remove the meat from the marinade, draining off the liquid and blotting away any excess marinade with paper towels. Arrange the meat strips side-by-side across the racks, leaving at least 1/4-inch of space between strips.
Place the racks of meat in the oven and cook until completely dry. This can take as little as 2 hours and as long as 5 hours, depending on the thickness and moistness of the meat, and how chewy you want it to be. The jerky will firm up as it cools. Check the oven temperature regularly to ensure it does not get too low (some finicky oven pilot lights can go out at such a low temperature) and adjust as needed.
The jerky is ready when it is dry, darker in color, and breaks gently (not snap) when bent. Blot any residual moisture from the jerky with paper towels and cool completely on the racks before storing.
Store the jerky in an airtight container kept in a cool, dry place. Well-dried beef stored in this way will last 2 to 3 months.
• For the chili-garlic paste, I prefer Thai Kitchen Roasted Red Chili Paste.
(Images: Sara Kate Gillingham-Ryan)