Jerking Me Around

Cowboy treats

Growing up, a favorite treat for me was the beef jerky my parents made.  I loved that delicious, salty snack, but after I moved away I questioned my memory of those meaty treats.  My subsequent encounters, left me cold, they were not so much dried as desiccated, tough as nails, so stringy that I required an immediate session with the dental floss upon choking down the last bit.  In a word, blegh!   I’d given up on jerky, believing I could not find anything that replicated the chewy goodness that my parents made – theirs was but a yummy memory; that is until recently.  A few years ago, while in Singapore, my friend who lived there was showing us their Chinatown.  She wanted to share a favorite snack of her daughter, and took us into a store that sold only one thing – jerky, or more specifically bakkwa.  It was delicious in its uniform square shape, and sweet-savory taste.  While the spices differed, it brought back memories of those tasty nibbles my parents had made; maybe it wasn’t an illusion after all.

Since then, I’ve noticed that jerky appears to be making a stealthy comeback, no grand marketing campaign, but showing up in high end food emporiums and farmers market.  Its not just about the beef any more – pork, buffalo, deer, turkey, duck, salmon and probably more than a few other protein options need to be considered.   Like the meat options, the seasoning options are equally plentiful, consider pepper jerky, teriyaki, barbecue, hickory smoked and maple spice.  The combinations seem limitless.

But jerky in Singapore?  I thought jerky was the stuff of the American West; cowboys chomped on it, while herding cattle on the plains.  How the heck did it end up in Singapore, or did I really have my jerky lessons down wrong?  This of course led me to think, hmm – America, Singapore, what other countries have their version of jerky?  Then a worrisome thought entered my head, “what else was out there that I was missing out on”?

American Style Jerky

The American Indians are credited with inventing the original beef jerky, as a way to preserve meat for times when food was scarce.   Jerky is any type of meat, which has been cured with a salt solution and has had the moisture reduced to less than 50% of the total.

I’ve found two different accounts of who to credit for the original jerky, and both seem plausible:

  1. The American Indians are credited with inventing the original beef jerky, as a way to preserve meat for times when food was scarce.
  2. Beef jerky is thought to have originated in South America during the 1800s. The Quechua tribe, decedents of the mighty Inca empire, produced a meat similar to beef jerky called ch’arki which was made by salting strips meat from game animals such as deer, buffalo, and elk, and drying them in the sun or over fires.  This preparation allowed preservation of meat when it was plentiful for eating when food was scarce. When the Spanish encountered this method of meat preservation, they adopted it and through their travels spread it to the rest of the world.

The meat and a curing solution are all that is needed for making meat jerky. The curing solution improves the taste, increases the life of the jerky, and adds to the final color. The cure solution also has an antimicrobial effect, preventing the growth of harmful bacteria.

Bakkwa

Bakkwa is a Chinese salty-sweet dried meat similar to jerky, formed in flat thin sheets. It is normally made from pork. Bakkwa probably originated from a meat preservation technique first used in ancient China, making it older than jerky.

Singapore's Chinatown

In Malaysia, Singapore, and the Philippines bakkwa or ba gua is the most common name. Cantonese speakers use the term yuhk gōn’, while in Taiwan the meat is referred to as rougan. Commercially available versions are may be labeled as “barbecued pork,” “dried pork,” or “pork jerky.” Bakkwa is particularly popular in Macau, Malaysia, Singapore, Taiwan and the Philippines.

In Malaysia and Singapore, bakkwa is a popular gift offered to visitors and acquaintances.  In Muslim-majority countries like Malaysia, a halal chicken version is often substituted. It may also be served in functions such as Chinese wedding banquets and religious ceremony dinners. While demand is particularly high during the festive seasons, it can be found year round in various outlets as takeaway snacks or to be served together with main courses at home. The meat is commonly sold in red-colored bags, an auspicious colour in Chinese culture.

Traditionally, bakkwa was made using leftover meats from festivals and banquets. They were preserved with sugar and salt for later consumption. The meat from these celebrations is trimmed of the fat, sliced, marinated and then smoked. After smoking, the meat is cut into small pieces and stored. It is believed that the distinguishing feature behind the preparation was in the marination, and the recipe is often closely guarded.  Today, there’s no waiting for leftovers, the meat is often prepared using fresh produce. Today, two variations are common, with more traditional ones involving minced meat shaped into slices, and the newer versions involving slicing off solid blocks of meat. The latter is gaining in popularity due to its tougher texture and lower fat content. The meat is mostly served plain and in square-shaped slices.

Rousong

Rousong, also called meat floss, pork floss, pork sung, fuzzy pork is a dried Chinese meat item that has a texture similar to coarse cotton.  Fish can also be used, and the Malaysian Muslims make a meat floss from chicken or beef called serunding, which is a popular during Ramadan.  Rousong is a topping for many foods from congee, tofu, to savory soy milk. It is also used as filling for various buns and pastries, and as a snack food on its own.

Tasty buns

Rousong is made by stewing cuts of pork in a sweetened soy sauce mixture until individual muscle fibers are easily teased apart with a fork.  The meat is then strained and dried in the oven. After a light drying, the meat is mashed and beaten while dry cooked in a large wok until it is completely dry. Additional flavourings are often added at this point.

Biltong

Biltong is a cured meat from South Africa, than may include any number of different meat in its production, ranging from beef to game, and even ostrich or shark. It is typically made from raw meat cut into strips, similar to beef jerky, that are spiced and dried.  they differ in their ingredients, taste and production process. The word biltong is from the Dutch bil (“rump”) + tong (“strip” or “tongue”).

Dutch settlers arriving in South Africa in the 17th century brought recipes for dried meat from Europe.  Preparation involved applying vinegar, then rubbing the meat with herbs, salts and spices. The need for preservation in the new colony was pressing. Building up herds of livestock took a long time. There was native game about but it could take hunters days to track and kill a large animal, and they were then challenged with preserving a large mass of meat in a short time in a hot climate during a period of history before iceboxes had been invented. Biltong evolved from the dried meat carried by the wagon-travelling Voortrekkers, who needed durable food as they migrated from the Cape Colony (Cape Town) into the interior of Southern Africa.  The raw meat was quickly preserved, and within a few weeks, would be black and rock-hard after it had fully cured.

The most common ingredients of biltong are:

  • cider vinegar
  • rock salt
  • coriander
  • black pepper
  • brown sugar

Other ingredients might include: balsamic vinegar or malt vinegar, dry chili peppers, garlic, baking soda, Worcestershire sauce, onion powder, and saltpetre.  Prior to the introduction of refrigeration, this process was used to preserve all kinds of meat in South Africa, but today beef is the most popular protein source.

The meat is typically marinated for a few hours in a vinegar solution, which is drained off before the meat is flavored.  The spice mix traditionally consists equal amounts of those common ingredients, that are roughly ground together and liberally rubbed into the meat. Saltpetre is optional and was added as an extra preservative.  The meat should set for a further few hours (or refrigerated overnight) and any excess liquid poured off before it is hung in the dryer.

Biltong differs from jerky in two ways:

  1. The meat used in biltong can be much thicker; typically biltong meat is cut in strips approx 1″ wide – but can be thicker. Jerky is normally very thin meat.
  2. The vinegar and salt in biltong, together with the drying process, cures the meat and add texture and flavor. Jerky recipes typically do not involve vinegar.

Pastirma or Bastirma

Pastırma or bastırma is a highly seasoned, air-dried cured beef of the former Ottoman countries.  The name pastırma is derived from the verb pastırmak (bastırmak in modern Turkish), which means “to press”. Pastırma is usually considered Turkish, though it is produced and consumed throughout Eastern Europe and the Middle East.  One legend recounts that Turkic horsemen of Central Asia preserved meat by placing slabs of it in the pockets of their saddles, where it was pressed by their legs as they rode.  Though beef is the most common meat, other proteins include camel, pork, lamb, goat, and water buffalo.

Pastırma is prepared by salting the meat, then washing it with water and letting it dry for 10-15 days. The blood and salt are then squeezed out of the meat which is then covered with a cumin paste called çemen prepared with crushed cumin, fenugreek, garlic, and hot paprika, followed more air-drying.  In Egypt, pastirma is served at breakfast with fried eggs. It is also used as a topping for pizza, and a filling for a variety of oven prepared stuff dough dishes, whether they are made from regular bread like dough, or a flaky multilayered puff pastry like dough.  Palestinians like their pastirma thinly sliced and fry it in olive oil. The pastirma is served not only in the mezze table but also for breakfast with freshly baked pita bread.

The Lebanese-Armenians introduced pastirma to Lebanese cuisine, and it is usually served as a mezze in thin slices, usually uncooked, but sometimes lightly grilled. It may be added to different dishes, the most famous of which is a bean dish, and various pies.

Pemmican

Pemmican is a concentrated mixture of fat and protein used as a nutritious food. The word comes from the Cree word pimîhkân, which itself is derived from the word pimî, “fat or grease”.  It was invented by the native Indians of North America, and widely adopted as a high-energy food by Europeans involved in the fur trade and later by Arctic and Antarctic explorers.

The specific ingredients used were usually whatever was available; the meat was often bison, moose, elk, or deer. Fruits such as cranberries and saskatoon berries were sometimes added. Cherries, currants, chokeberries and blueberries were also used, but almost exclusively in ceremonial and wedding pemmican.

Traditionally pemmican was prepared from the lean meat of large game such as buffalo, elk or deer. The meat was thinly sliced and dried over a slow fire, or in the hot sun until hard and brittle. Then it was pounded into very small pieces, almost powder-like in consistency, using stones. The pounded meat was mixed with melted fat. In some cases, dried fruits such as cranberries, blueberries, or choke cherries were pounded into powder and then added to the meat/fat mixture. The resulting mixture was then packed into rawhide pouches for storage.  This sounds like an early version of the energy bar.

Some other examples of dried meat:

carne seca from Latin America.  Most recipes seem to require vinegar added to the marinade, and most of the recipes claim a Mexican provenance.

fenalår from Norway is a salted dried, and sometimes smoked, leg of lamb.

Suho meso is a smoked beef food preparation consumed in Bosnia.

Two that are a bit more refined than their basic staple counterparts:

bresaola from Italy is air-dried salted beef, that was given a dry rub of salt and spices such as juniper berries.  Thinly sliced and looks nothing like beef jerky.  Think proscuitto.

Buendnerfleisch from Switzerland

Which while salted are sometimes flavored with herbs and wine.  In fact its hard to consider bresaola and jerky as related but the process is similar.

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I love Paris

Maybe not really traditional, but I’ve had making jerky as a snack to watch the Tour de France.  Here’s two of my favorites, that I modified from the June 2010 issue of Food & Wine.  Both recipes require 2 pounds of trimmed top or bottom round beef, and the final product is ¾ pound of jerky.

For the marinades:

Mexican Lime Jerky

Ingredients

2 large jalapenos, halved, 1 seeded
1 c fresh lime juice
1 quart light Mexican beer (Corona, Pacifico)
½ c soy sauce

coarse salt for sprinking before drying the meat

Directions

In a mini food processor, puree the seed jalapeno along with ¼ c of the lime juice.  Transfer the puree to a large bowl and stir in the remaining marinade ingredients.

Notes:

I like this sort of jerky with more of a bit, next time I am not seeding either jerky.  I let the meat marinade for a bit over 6 hours, and that was not long enough.

Sweet and Spicy Jerky

Ingredients

1 ½ c strong brewed coffee
1 ½ c Coca Cola
2 whole star anise pods
2 c soy sauce
½ c Asian fish sauce
½c fresh lime juice
¼ c Asian style chili garlic sauce

Directions

Pour the ingredients into a large bowl and let return to room temperature.  Add the remaining ingredients and stir well.

Notes:

I found that 6 hours was almost too much time to marinate this batch.  It was almost too salty for me probably because of all the soy sauce and fish sauce.  I loved the taste but next time, I am reducing the amount of time I let the beef marinate.

For the Beef Jerky (either marinade)

Slice the meat in ¼” thick slices.

Add the beef to the marinate and make sure it is well coated.  Cover and refrigerate from 6 to 8 hours.

Preheat the oven to 200°F.  Set a large wire rack on a baking sheet (will need more than one).  Remove beef from the marinade and arrange on the racks.  Bake for about 4 hours until the jerky is firm and almost completely dry, but still chewy.  (The aroma will dictate that you have to sneak a few samples to check on its progress).

This jerky can be kept in a refrigerator for up to 6 weeks.

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38 comments for “Jerking Me Around

  1. July 16, 2010 at 8:10 AM

    A very interesting post! I love jerky. Now we can find it in Switzerland. It seems to be trendy again… Pastirma and Asian jerky are also delicious.

    Cheers,

    Rosa

  2. July 16, 2010 at 8:36 AM

    That was very intersting reading because I never tasted Jerked beef and I didn’t know what is was exactly! I will make this but with chicken. I don’t eat beef.

    Now, I know a lot more about it!! Thanks, my friend!

  3. July 16, 2010 at 3:07 PM

    What an interesting, thorough post. I’ve never made jerky, but I will now – thanks so much for the great info and recipes!

  4. July 17, 2010 at 2:53 AM

    thanks for the post I love breasaloa with rocket salad this is perfect !! Pierre

  5. July 17, 2010 at 5:42 AM

    I always thought jerky was just American. It seems every culture has its eans of not wasting precious meat. My family loves jerky – BUT only the jerky found at one particular stall in the St. Paul Farmers Market. Otherwise, they don’t go near that stuff!

  6. July 17, 2010 at 6:38 AM

    I never liked commercial US beef jerky. I always thought they were greasy. But Singaporean bakkwa is another story. My favorite is from Bee Cheng Hiang, they even have chicken shaped into coins.

    Your Mexican lime jerky sounds interesting. :)

  7. July 17, 2010 at 7:08 AM

    It’s such great portable food. I loved reading about the different variations. I’d like to try making the Mexican lime jalapeno mix for a salmon jerky!

  8. July 17, 2010 at 9:54 AM

    Oh my Lordie. I LOVE you for posting this. I adore, adore, adore bakkwa!!! It’s just so different from regular beef jerkies you get at 7-Eleven…so rich, so fatty! I think jerkies just need fat! Fat is our friend!

  9. July 17, 2010 at 10:21 AM

    I have never tried bakkwa but I have heard about it and how tasty it is compared to the packaged stuff. I never knew there were so many types of jerky!

  10. July 17, 2010 at 11:00 AM

    I ate lots of these pork/beef/fish floss with congee as a kid…today they don’t taste the same. The quality of meat has gone bad…I must try your sweet and spicy jerky..sounds very interesting!

  11. admin
    July 17, 2010 at 2:35 PM

    Rosa – Like you, I really love all the options.

    Sophie – Beef this way is delicious, but just to differentiate, this is the dried beef, and not beef jerked as in the Jamacian spices.

    Lynn – Making the jerky is incredibly easy and the results are so worth the effort.

    Pierre – Bresola is perfection!

    Claudia – Like you, we are very picky about our jerky!

    Kitchen Masochist – I’m with you, never liked the stuff in those packages. I loved the bakkwa brand you mentioned. I stocked up when I was in Singapore and brought some back.

    Lisa – I bet the salmon jerky would be incredible.

    Sophia – My pleasure and I agree with you about the fat!

    Lisa – If you have never had bakkwa, you got to give it a try, but I warn you it is habit forming.

    Angie – I think the sweet savory jerky is my favorite by a hair.

  12. July 17, 2010 at 5:00 PM

    Wow, homemade beef jerky? I am impressed! As a kid, my fave was the type my parents brought home from Chinatown. It was a little more pliable than the 7-Eleven variety, and it had the sweet taste of hoisin on it. Now, that was one satisfying chew. 😉

  13. July 17, 2010 at 6:50 PM

    Absolutely love beef jerky. My aunt who lives in Pennsylvania makes the best jerkies. I’ve never tasted one marinated in beer or Coke. I’ll have to give this a try :)

  14. July 17, 2010 at 7:02 PM

    I bow down. You know everything. You know my family on the island of Canouan still cure beef in a similar manner. They call it bully beef. I never really paid attention before to the process. To be sure there’ll be phone calls in the morning:-)

  15. July 18, 2010 at 6:48 AM

    We have a couple of dishes in Colombia using carne seca!!!They are delicious.

  16. July 18, 2010 at 11:39 AM

    One day I’m going to do the coffee-coca cola thing…maybe in beans! Fantastic recipe…in Nigeria we have jerky called ‘Kilishi’, spiced with a peanut sauce and dried (a dehydrated version of suya!). And with this round up/cultural lesson, who minds being jerked around!

  17. July 18, 2010 at 3:27 PM

    Mmmm…I like a good piece of jerky every once in a while. Yum!!! I’ve always wanted to try making it at home. It’s cool to learn about how other cultures make their own.

  18. July 18, 2010 at 4:39 PM

    The Mexican lime jerky is very popular with my husband. I have never tried to make this but might. Great thorough post.

  19. admin
    July 18, 2010 at 8:41 PM

    Carolyn – I wish I could say it was difficult, but homemade jerky doesn’t get any easier.

    Jackie – I have to say I always loved good jerky and I am so happy its easy to make.

    Wizzy – Ah, no I learn a lot and like to share. I’ll have to check out the bully beef.

    Erica – Yea, look forward to checking out those recipes.

    Jenn – I’m with you, very interesting to see what other countries came up with,

    Tammy – Its very easy, and I bet your husband would be grateful. Mine was!

  20. July 18, 2010 at 10:30 PM

    Me too! I love homemade jerky! We make them when we go on hiking, but it’s always so hard to resist not eating them before the trip. 😀

    I’ve never heard of duck jerky before. And the salmon one sounds great too! Have you ever had Japanese squid jerky (there are soft and hard varieties) or Vietnamese beef jerky? Those are our favorites!

  21. July 19, 2010 at 7:46 AM

    Recently discovered biltong here in London via my husband’s South African co-workers – love it! I’m spoiled when in comes to beef jerky…my mom always makes a giant batch for me to take when I come home. She slices the beef and lets its drain for a few hours and then adds spices which include soy sauce and sesame seeds, and put them directly on the racks in the oven (bottom lined with foil) and leaves them in a low convection oven overnite with the door cracked. I’m going to tweet some pics in a minute so you can see. Can bring you some next time I’m in town!

  22. July 19, 2010 at 11:55 AM

    Thanks for this informative post. Never had jerky before, but I do love pastirma. We love to use it when making scrambled eggs, it gives a great flavor to it. Hubby loves to eat it raw,too. I wish it smelled less, though.

  23. July 19, 2010 at 1:17 PM

    Wow, great post, love the information that you have in it :-) I used to have lots of beef/pork jerky, not anymore due to the salt content…

  24. July 19, 2010 at 8:26 PM

    I prefer Bakkwa to beef jerky as the latter usually comes too dry for my liking? Or am I biased….getting too used to the Bakkwa in Singapore? ;p …in fact, I am going to post a recipe using Bakkwa as a ingredient.

  25. July 20, 2010 at 4:28 AM

    I was thrilled to see you add biltong to the list. We South Africans are crazy about it and I have friends bring it over to France for me whenever they come over. Will have to try the Bakkwa too sometime…

  26. July 20, 2010 at 8:55 AM

    Who knew there were so many versions of jerky! I had the commercial variety once and swore never to have it again until…my Turkish friends introduced me to Bastirma. Oh goodness!!! I’d love to try an Asian version and the recipe for Mexican Lime Jerky is absolutely calling my name:)

    GREAT, informative post, Oyster. Once again, I appreciate your thoroughness…Thank you so much for sharing…

  27. July 20, 2010 at 2:26 PM

    I’ve really only had beef jerky a few times in my life… and none of it was memorable. I would love to try the bakkwa you wrote about. The Mexican lime one sounds good too. I will have to pay more attention when I am at food festivals – I usually pass right by the jerky stalls!

  28. July 21, 2010 at 10:16 AM

    Ah, good old beef jerky! I once got a Ronco food dehydrator (remember that infomercial?!) for Christmas (it is still a long-standing family joke)and vowed to make a lifetime supply of beef jerky with it. The most I ever did was make fruit roll-ups. Sad but true. I would definitely try your Mexican lime and chili version – not only does it sound tasty, it just involves a normal oven, which is much more appealing to me these days. :)

  29. July 21, 2010 at 12:24 PM

    My mom used to make a really mean beef jerky when I was younger. It’s interesting to see the permutations of jerky regionally. I grew up eating rousoung and still love it.

  30. July 21, 2010 at 10:11 PM

    At my country with the abundance of fresh beef, isn’t common to find jerky at all.
    A class about them with all their variants! Wonderful and informative post :)

    All the best,

    Gera

  31. July 22, 2010 at 4:35 AM

    Jerky was a favorite treat for us growing up too, but unfortunately it was the kind in a package. As an adult my brothers have made it out of venison, but it is tough and stringy as you mentioned. I do love it if made well though.

    I had completely forgotten about all the bakkwa we had seen around Singapore on our trip last year. It was everywhere. I remember thinking that all the beef jerky was odd as well, but according to this post I was just under-educated! We didn’t try it because we had so many other foods on the list, but now I’m wishing we had squeezed it in.

  32. July 22, 2010 at 5:31 AM

    Ummm, I am eye’ing the lime jerky recipe…growing up I ate it all the time, since we fished, camped and did lake things with my dad, and he always had a piece hanging out of his mouth, lol!

  33. admin
    July 25, 2010 at 6:49 AM

    Kitchen M – I agree the biggest risk with jerky is that you’ll have it all eaten before its intended use. I am not sure I’ve tried Vietnamese jerky, and I’ve had Japanese dried, shredded squid before, but will have to check with you that its the same thing. I’m intrigued.

    Gastro – The photos you shared with me looked out of this world. The biltbong sounds wonderful, I’ve not had a chance to sample it yet, but am planning to make my own version. I’ll have to see if I can have some for when you visit so you can tell me if I am close.

    Zerrin – I just found pasterim in the corner store, You could have knocked me over with a feather I was so surprised. I was thinking about buying it but then I remembered your comment about the smell – is it really bad?

    Juliana – That’s the problem is the high salt content, not sure what they could do otherwise to preserve it,

    Tigerfish – I love bakkwa, and I can find it in my neighborhood but have not yet compared it to those tasty squares of heaven I got in Singapore. I cannot wait to see your recipe. Please do not keep me in suspense too long.

    Crystal – Biltbong is a must for inclusion. You may need to check out Food & Think’s post on Bitong. She just got back from SA and speaks of discovering this tasty wonder.

    Louise – The options are endless. I think those commercial products were made by jerky haters to ensure that once we tried them we’d never go back. There is just no comparison with the homemade stuff.

    Reeni – I used stroll right by the jerky stalls myself, but no more. The bakkwa rocks and the flavors are just amazing.

    Brenda – The food processor our family had suffered much the same fate – we had many, many batches of dehydrated bananas, and too few of the jerky. There’d be no way I could have gotten a dehydrator, we live in an apartment with no space for any of those extras. The low heat of the oven works just fine.

    Christine – Someday I really want to do a jerky comparison party, you know jerky from around the world. Maybe we can plan something on one of your visits.

    Gera – I imagine with your fantastic beef, it would be criminal to even think of treating it this way, but when I make it to Uruguay, I’m bringing you some of my jerky. Deal?

    Lori – You missed something – now you need to go back to Singapore, darnit. I’ve come up with many reasons to plan my return trip.

    Chef E – Its addicting stuff, let me tell you.

  34. July 26, 2010 at 11:41 AM

    oh great post, beef jerky is HUGE around here in South Texas, there is so many variations. We also have a carne seca here that is cooked with eggs, very salty and briny. It’s funny when hubby was deployed he would request that I send him jerky with every care pkg, easy to carry and great for when he would go out on missions. We all got together and sent him a HUGE box, I got many thank you letters.
    sweetlife

  35. August 6, 2010 at 8:50 AM

    Great roundup of international types of jerky. I’ve heard of Biltong, but until today never knew what spices went into it. Interesting how they use coriander to flavor the meat just like we do for the Thai jerky, also known as Neua Sawan or “Heavenly Beef.” The fragrance of cracked coriander seeds is always associated with it. I’m hungry just typing this. Heavenly beef and warm sticky rice are SO great together.

    On a side note, one of my culinary ambitions is to make homemade pork floss. One of these days ….

  36. admin
    August 7, 2010 at 1:54 PM

    Sweetlife – Love the jerky stories – I remember my mom used to send them to me on occasion and they were a treat, can only imagine how popular they were for your hubby.

    Leela – I am going to have to research neua sawan – anything called heavenly in the title deserves closer consideration. Its amazing to me how popular coriander is around the globe, and seeing it show up in similar seasoning. Can’t wait to see how the homemade pork floss turns out.

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