Somewhere along the line, consumers decided it was acceptable for manufacturers of cheap, processed meat products to employ the term "jerky" when selling their dried-out goods. But real jerky isn't available next to the gas station cash registers; real jerky – popular in the New World since the height of the Incan Empire – is a gourmet treat. Fortunately, the hand-made stuff is getting easier to find as serious chefs create unique products from high-end ingredients (and sometimes soda).
Here are some of the best jerky recipes for cooks looking to get in on the action. They're hard to find – jerky chefs are protective of their prized recipes – but worth the time. So get the knives, break out your smokers, and pre-heat your oven. The only thing better than cooking a gourmet treat is being able to put it in your pocket before you head out to the bar.
Jerky with a Laotian touch – at least in the hands of chef Soulayphet Schwader, who presides over Tribeca restaurant Khe Yo (the only Laotian eatery in New York) – has a unique umami tang. That's due to Schwader's use of fish sauce in his marinade, which deliberately overpowers the salt in the sirloin that he uses as a protein friendly to American palates. "Jerky is a very traditional Laotian dish used typically with water buffalo," says Schwader, whose mother would fry him jerky for breakfast. "I want to introduce people to our culture and cuisine, and I enjoy seeing people eating the jerky that I've had since I was a child."
Just beware: Fish-sauced jerky is not without its risks. "The one tip I have is the longer you marinate, the more intense flavor you'll get – don't marinate [the jerky] more than three days." Done right, the jerky should have a Laotian kick, not kick you in the stomach.
Khe-Yo's Beef Jerky
Yield: Approximately 50 pieces
- 5 lbs top-round sirloin, cut along the grain into strips (approximately 1" thick x 4" long)
- 1/4 cup fish sauce
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1/2 cup oyster sauce
- 1 tbsp coarsely ground black pepper
- 2 tbsp garlic powder
- 10 cloves garlic, slightly crushed
- 1 tbsp salt
Mix all of the ingredients together and marinate beef for 24 hours.
Pre-heat oven to 250 degrees.
Lay strips on a rack over a sheet pan and place in oven with the door cracked open.
Rotate the pan every 15 minutes for 1 to 1.5 hours or until the jerky is dry.
Heat 1.5 cups of oil in a large pan and fry the jerky on medium heat for 2-3 minutes.
Remove from oil and coat with sesame seeds.