Wednesday, 20 February 2013

If you've got it, cure it - Venison Jerky

I love the cow. Admittedly, I love the pig more, but I love the cow too, and why not? The cow, she tastes good! I've always loved the cow, and for a while, when I was younger, the cow usurped the pig, but that's no longer the case.

Aside from one short spell in my life where I shunned meat on the occasional day - the sad story is retold here - I've always had the cow at least three times a week, at one of the three designated eating periods, or in between them.

In the past, I've had frequent visits to the concept of beef jerky, and they've been mixed. Sometimes I've wondered why someone would bother ruining a good slice of beef by turning it into a hard and dry tasteless shoe sole, but on other occasions, I've marvelled at the slowly yielding texture, with each chew releasing yet another wave of seasoned beefiness into my greedy gob-hole.

When I saw a bunch of beef jerky recipes on the interweb, I decided to go for it. However, a rummage through the meat collection revealed no suitable beef. There was, however, a venison fillet. The beef jerky recipe I was interested in following used chilli and spices. I thought for a moment, and soon realised that whilst such seasoning would be great with beef, it might not work with venison so well. There was nothing for it; it was invention time!

I sliced the venison fillet very thinly; it weighed in at around 400g. I popped it in the freezer for 20 minutes and used my Wusthof fish filleting knife to get the slices as delicate as possible. Then I finely diced a couple of shallots. These went into a plastic bag, along with the venison, 10g of coarse salt, 10g of cracked black pepper, 10g of ground juniper berries, one teaspoon of redcurrant jelly and a glug of port. The bag then went into the fridge for 48 hours, being massaged and messed around with every time I opened the fridge.

After the allotted time had passed, I removed the venison, shook off the bits of shallot, and placed them over the rack from a large roasting pan. It was time to dry them. Everything I read said dry it slowly. My cooker has three ovens. One is conventional, one is fan-assisted, and third is what is called a warming oven. In the many years I've owned the cooker, I've never even turned on the warming oven. I'm not a warming oven kind of person.

You have no control of the warming oven. It's either on or off. The spec for the cooker doesn't say how hot it gets, but it does say it will keep hot plates warm. I figured if they're hot when they go in, keeping them warm is no big deal. Even so, I decided to check.

In my previous post, I said I broke my thermometer. This is how I did it! Was it a cooking thermometer? Of course not. It was one for a normal room. I used it for checking the temperature in the room I use for brewing beer. I figured the warming oven wouldn't be too hot, so I switched it on and put the thermometer in there. I checked it 20 minutes later, and it read 35 degrees C/95 degrees F. Perfect! I wanted to be doubly sure, so I popped it back in while I had my dinner. Another 20 minutes later, and I checked the second time. The mercury had gone off the scale, and the little bulb thing (thermometer experts will know what it's called, but I don't) had exploded. Ballsacks!

The end result was that after cleaning the warming oven out, the jerky went in with the door opened. This was at around 9.30pm. I checked it again at around 6am, and it was dried! After cooling, it went into a plastic bowl, and into the fridge.

It is, in reality, a revelation. The initial bite is tasteless and hard. Then, with each chew, it softens slightly, giving up wave after wave of sweet and spicy flavour, the venison still shining through. It has a depth that grows on a daily basis, although I won't be able to find its true depth, because I can't ignore it. Soon I will have eaten the bloody lot!

At first I did question whether I'd wasted a perfectly good - albeit small - venison fillet. Now I know it has transformed into something special, something delicious, something that adds a five minute burst of pleasure into an otherwise ordinary day.

Right; I'm off to the fridge!

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