Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Fun with the dehydrator

I tried dehydrating a bunch of things over the weekend: sweet potatoes, apples, and beef. Results were mixed.

First of all, I take back what I said about the mandoline not being good at slicing sweet potatoes. That was because those ones had been sitting in our kitchen for months getting dried out and tough. When I sliced up fresh sweet potatoes, it was no problem.

I seasoned some only with salt, some with salt and cinnamon, and some with salt+cinnamon+cayenne (I like it hot). All got a little olive oil sprayed lightly on top of the spices. They dried up nicely. If I left the skin on, the edges were curled up in a pretty way. But I overdid the salt on all of them, and I didn't really care for the texture on any of them - I guess I'm expecting sweet potato chips like the ones that get fried in oil. Doesn't seem to be a way to make that with a dehydrator. Also, when I left them out for a few hours after drying them, they sucked up some moisture and were basically limp leather. Not too tasty.
They looked pretty good and were crispy... at first.
So, I moved on to apples. I think it's pretty hard to go wrong with apples. I had four different kinds of apples; I think the Granny Smith, Fuji, and Gala came out well, with Braeburn a little lackluster. For these, I threw together a little seasoning including lemon juice, maple syrup, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cardamom. The sliced apples were in this for a few hours while I did other things.
On top I left one row of plain apples for comparison. Two trays below were flavored. Didn't feel a need to peel any of them - good nutrients in those peels!
I also blended up some apples (peeled this time) and some pears with a teaspoon of cinnamon in the food processor so I could dry them into "fruit leather" (somewhat like Fruit Roll-ups, except without adding weird stuff to the fruit).
Pear-apple-cinnamon blend on the mat

After about 8 hours these were fantastic.
The dried and quickly-disappearing apple slices
The dried "fruit leather"
Everything tasted great, but the spiced apples were really exceptional. Basically like eating apple pie filling, just dried. I'll try fruit leather that way in the future, and maybe not dry it so long - came out a little too crispy.

Next up, beef jerky! We don't eat normal beef jerky since it generally includes sugar and (especially!) sodium nitrite. So I'm hoping I can make up a ton of our own to help me with the previously described munchies during the day.

The first hurdle is getting the meat thin enough to make good jerky. You cannot possibly get it thin enough with a knife, and you cannot safely run it through the mandoline unless it is mostly frozen (but not all the way frozen). Not frozen enough - it bends and doesn't resist enough for the mandoline to cut it, and you'll probably lose a finger trying. Too frozen and the blade can't effectively cut it. So it's a difficult balancing act. It might be possible to get a butcher to cut it really thin, but the one at Whole Foods couldn't do it with raw meat.

I think what would be best is to start with one large piece of fat-free meat (like a london broil or eye of round - not the tri-tips I used), freeze it pretty solid, then let it thaw for an hour or two in the fridge. Then run it through the mandoline with about a medium-thickness slice. As it was, my slices were not very even.

I fixed my sliced meat in two ways: with some, I just massaged some salt into it, and with most of it, I marinated it in a sealed plastic bag. The marinade was based on cider vinegar, with a touch of honey to offset the sour, salt, pepper, and a touch of paprika for a little heat. And probably a few other things I don't remember - indications from what I read were that the specifics aren't too important.
Salted meat on the left; meat marinating on the right
These stayed in the fridge overnight (while the apples were drying, in fact). In the morning I laid them out on the trays, with the marinated meat on the bottom so it wouldn't drip on the rest.
Marinated jerky; above that I left a tray of only-salted meat for comparison.
I checked back about 6 hours later and the meat was well-dried.
The finished jerky

Maybe a little too dried for most of the really thin slices, which were downright crispy. The too-thick end-pieces, on the other hand, were probably not quite dry enough (so I ate them right away - very chewy). I think the vinegar in the marinade was a little too strong a flavor; next time I will probably try lime juice instead, and offset with a little agave (not so much that it's sweet). Still, pretty tasty for my first try. And the pieces with salt only were frankly just fine if you want to keep it simple.

I also realized why jerky seems so damn expensive in the store: a pound of beef dries down to about four ounces of jerky. So basically, that tiny bag of jerky in the store is like a whole big steak (which is the appeal to those using this for food on hikes or climbs). 

1 comment:

  1. I *love* homemade beef jerky. My mom has been making it for years and finally broke down and bought an electric meat slicer/mandolin-thingy, to make her meat slices more even. It makes a huge difference. As for the marinade, she keeps her recipe a secret, but I know it has a soy sauce and Worcestershire base with ginger and something to make it slightly sweet.

    Good luck with the dehydration-- it is loads of fun! You should try dehydrating bananas or watermelon. Really really good. :)


All may comment. Be nice.