One of the gifts we received this Christmas was a food dehydrator from KD’s dad. We’d been wanting one for a while, and decided to put it to use right away. While there are many things that one can do with a dehydrator, this time we went with the obvious, and made some jerky.
We used a recipe from Food Network’s Alton Brown, but ignored the part about MacGuyvering a makeshift device out of box fans, bungee cords and air filters, since we had a perfectly good food dehydrator right in front of us. While the recipe calls for flank steak, we tried a batch using duck breast, just to experiment. We started with four duck breasts and removed the skin and as much fat as possible, as fat can go rancid causing your jerky to spoil.
That said, there’s no way we were going to let all that tasty duck fat go to waste. We placed the fatty bits along with the skins in a pan and slowly rendered everything, then poured off the liquid to save for future use. At the end of the process, we were left with crispy duck skin chips, not unlike pork skins.
To prepare the breasts, we sliced them into roughly quarter inch strips. We found the duck fairly easy to cut, but if you are using flank steak, or any cut of beef for that matter, freezing the meat for an hour or two before slicing can make things easier. Slicing with the grain will result in a chewier jerky, while slicing across the grain will leave you with a more tender jerky.
The thin strips go into a marinade made from 2/3 cup of soy sauce, 2/3 cup Worcestershire sauce, 1 tablespoon honey, 2 teaspoons onion powder, 2 teaspoons fresh black pepper, a teaspoon of red pepper flakes and a teaspoon of liquid smoke. Alton suggests marinating for 3-6 hours in the refrigerator, but some recipes suggest as many as 24 hours. Eager to try out our new gadget, we took our meat out after just 3 hours, but it had already picked up a substantial amount of color, as well as a smoky/spicy aroma. We arranged the strips on the drying trays in a single layer, making sure that they did not overlap. Once they trays are stacked, you simply put the top on, turn on your dehydrator and wait.
According to our dehydrator’s instructions, jerky can take anywhere from four to eights hours, depending on the size, moisture content, and how fatty the pieces are. Since we sliced our pieces thin, they were ready after about four hours. When properly dried, jerky should crack, but not break when bent. Of course, you can vary your drying times to suit your individual taste. Once done, we found it easiest to turn off the machine and let the strips cool for about a half hour before placing them in zip lock bags (or devouring them).
Once cooled, the jerky had a deep reddish-brown color with no visible moisture on the surface. The taste was textbook jerky flavor, salty and smoky, with a spicy finish. The duck was a tad stronger than your usual beef jerky with a hint of gaminess, but the heat balanced it nicely. Jerky is super easy to make and if stored in an airtight container, can last for a couple months without refrigeration, although since it’s such a great snack, it probably won’t last anywhere near that long.
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