Have you looked at beef jerky? The bags and sticks, the different flavors all lined up in manly packaging at your local convenience store begging to be purchased and devoured, chomped, torn, chewed, snacked upon, and savored. Sometimes it's eaten with purpose and other times it is mindlessly consumed like some sort of natural chewing gum. People who are passionate about beef jerky truly adore it and will travel distances for prime specimes and go to the trouble of making their own. I must admit that I do not look at beef jerky in this way. I have been known to stick my nose up at jerky. Why would I want dried meat chunks and strips? What is the point? I did not really know because I had never really tried it. I just was not a jerky kind of guy. Still, in the back of my mind I knew I was missing something. Perhaps the gas station mystique of jerky helped me construct a wall of avoidance. Yet, I like dried things. Cured meat is good. And jerky is just a varaition on the current salumi craze, which is the current pin up model of kitchens today. Jerky's key difference it where salumi is fat, jerky is slim. Knowing this distinction is important for the creation of jerky as well as for sparking ideas.
Aki is a jerky aficionado. She can remember all of her favorite variations, and is not a fan of teriyaki or peppered beef. She like real jerky with rich meaty flavor and the perfect dry, chewy texture. She has made jerky before. She waxes poetic about the beef jerky she made at NECI, although truth be told, I don't think that she's made any since those days. I do not have these memories. I have memories of dodging the Slim Jims that seemed to be ubiquitous. Then one day I took a leap of faith. I was gathering ingredients for a workshop and saw a bag of Jack Link's Teriyaki Tips and just picked them up. I had never noticed Jack Link's up until a few years ago when he stayed at Keyah Grande on a hunting trip. Let's just say the man loves his jerky and is happy to share his passion. I think he brought a duffel bag of all kinds of jerky for his hunting associates. With jerky in hand I let my mind wander. I first ripped into the bag and then tentatively took out a teriyaki tip and tasted. It was sweet, meaty, salty, rich, it was good. Surprisingly good, heck, I actually liked the darn stuff.
We have zested cured meats before like chorizo and country ham so why not try it with jerky? It works, jerky zest works. We paired the jerky zest with a hot spring egg, not much of a reach-steak and eggs. After eating the first iteration of this dish I knew we could do more. I also felt the idea of jerky, lean dried meat cured with flavorings from ketchup to hoisin, could be exciting. With new ideas came more questions. What else could be jerky: duck, lamb, salmon, tuna? What flavors could we explore? What else is lean and could be dried and prepared as jerky: apples, quince, turnips, pumpkin? With these assorted jerkys on hand what will be their role in our pantry: as themselves, ground, zested, powdered, as a flavor base, as a piece to be shaved like a truffle? With new ideas the understanding of the possibilites is still unknown. What we have is an exciting new road to explore with many stops along the way.