"And so the winter crept slowly on, and the brief, brilliant summer flitted in, then out, like a golden dream. The second snows were upon the little fort, the second Christmas, the second long, long weeks and months of the new year. An unspoken horror was staring them all in the face: navigation did not open when expected, and supplies were running low, pitifully low. The smoked and dried meats, the canned things, flour, sealed lard, oatmeal, hard-tack, dried fruits--_everything_ was slowly but inevitably giving out day upon day. Before and behind them stretched hummocks of trailless snow. Not an Indian, not a dog train, not even a wild animal, had set foot in that waste for weeks. In early March the major's wife had hidden a single package of gelatine, a single tin of dried beef, and a single half pound of cornstarch. "If sickness comes to my boys" (she did not say boy), "I shall at least have saved these," she told herself, in justification of her act. "A sick man cannot live on beans." But now they were down to beans--just beans and lard boiled together. Then a day dawned when there was not even a spoonful of lard left. "Beans straight!"--it was the death knell, for beans straight--beans without grease--kill the strongest man in a brief span of days. Oh, that the ice bridges would melt, the seas open, the ships come!"
Pauline Johnson, "Mother o'the Men" in The Moccasin Maker, University of Oklahoma Press  (1998), 188
New York is hardly in Yukon territory, and the Hudson certainly cannot compare with the Klondike, but I don't give a hoot (rien à cirer).It stills feel good to have a tin of dried beef in your pantry.
Hence this beef jerky project, another genius recipe by Michael Ruhlman. Not a cakewalk (c'est pas du gâteau), though, when you don't have a dehydrator or a vast wind-swept and sun-drenched plain at hand. No, a rooftop in Williamsburg doesn't cut it. Granted, the prepping is easy as pie (simple comme bonjour). You get extra lean beef - eye of the round here - you slice it as thin as your patience, practice and knife allow you, you dump it in a box in the fridge, tossed in some seasoning (chipotle in adobo, onion, garlic and a lot of black pepper for me, please), then forget about it for a day or so. Then you slow-dry it in your oven.
If I have learned one thing from making this, it is that it's not about precision. The guys out there who dried beef - natives, gold diggers, grizzli bears - did not anxiously wave a thermometer out of their tipi/cabin/cave to check that external temperature was 90°F. Unlike me. You see, the configuration of my oven knob suggests that its lowest setting is 200°F. But because there are no numbers below that on the said knob doesn't mean that it's not going to still heat up. I feared that gas would start leaking in the oven and the resistor which sets it on fire woudn't work. Then I considered coming back from work and finding a great big smoking crater in place of my building, with beef strips hanging from the nearby tree branches. I therefore sat in front of my oven with a thermometer, leaving the door ajar, and monitered it for a while. Well it never went as low as 90°F or even 120°F as another blogger suggested, but it must have oscillated between 130 and 150°F (door propped open). I put it at 7:30am before going to work, and took it out at 6:00pm when I came back.
I'd never had beef jerky before so I didn't know what to expect or look for. Fortunately, my roomies were once more glad to guineapig for me and give me a piece of their mind. Apparently, right out of the oven, it was slightly too crisp. It should have been more leathery. But after a few hours, I had some for dinner, and it had gone softer. Still extremely chewy by all means, don't get me wrong. My inner grizzli was very pleased and kept going back for more. If I hadn't liked the jerky, I had a back-up plan involving making baby moccasins for the latest addition to the bean-eating community. Phew, that was a close call, sweetie pie (Eh ben mon petit chat, t'as eu chaud)!