This is some fine jerky.
I love jerky but I can’t stand what you find in stores. Yesterday I made some great tasting jerky from a beef heart and I’ll tell you what I did, but be warned – if you like the commercial product you find in the grocery store this one might not appeal to you.
Why beef heart? Well, first of all, because I had one handy. If that seems odd you have to realize that we buy a half a beef every year and we always get as much of the organ meat as we can as part of it. For those that don’t do this, hearts are normally cheaper than most other cuts of meat (most people don’t know what to do with them) and because they are almost all muscle they make wonderful jerky. Personally I think jerky is one of the best uses for them, having tried a lot of baked and braised (long simmering) recipes. You might have to ask your butcher as a special order, but you might also be surprised at the low cost.
I need to say one other thing before diving in: I think that the only way to make this stuff is in a good dehydrator. I’ve tried using the oven (people always say “You can do this in your oven, too”) but there is no comparison. Still, if that’s all you have, that’s all you have. We got so frustrated by not being able to dry things easily that we finally broke down and bought an Excalibur nine tray dryer and I’ve never regretted it.
So, here are the directions:
Remove the membrane on the heart and any fat. This will take a little bit of the meat off at the same time unless you are a hell of a lot more skilled (and patient!) than I am, but our two dogs were quite grateful for the scraps and I’m glad to give them to them. I actually had more than I expected so I boiled it since it would last more than a meal or two – otherwise I would have simply given it to them raw. (Our beef comes from a friend and we know how it’s raised; I have no qualms about this at all.) Anyway, get the fat and caul-like wrapping off.
Slice the meat into strips. The heart is not a single piece of meat like a roast, it’s more like a bag; at any rate, you won’t get a lot of long strips about 1/4 inch thick, you’ll get a lot of different lengths. I worried that this might be a problem as far as drying them goes but it wasn’t.
If you want to marinate them or use a rub, that’s the next step. I used a marinade, the recipe for which is below. I let the strips soak for about ten hours, then placed them on three trays of the dryer and then dried them at 155 F for seven and a half hours while I slept. When I got up this morning they were perfect – dry, leathery and slightly flexible. The flavor is very good, but the marinade I used is (deliberately) not a strong one; for me, this is just perfect.
Here’s the recipe I used:
1 Beef heart (3 pounds, in this case)
1/3 cup tomato sauce
1/5 cup soy sauce (call it a scant 1/4 cup if that’s easier; the quantities don’t matter that much.)
1/5 cup Worcestershire sauce
4 decent-sized cloves of garlic, crushed to bits
A good sprinkling of fresh coarse-ground pepper
1 drop of Liquid Smoke
(Note on Liquid Smoke: I used to think this stuff is appalling, but after I researched it I found out it’s not so bad at all – what’s bad is too much of it, and this amount is hardly noticeable. Obviously, you’ll skip it if you find it a turn-off, but it’s interesting to find out how it’s made so there’s something for you to Google.)
Just mix all the stuff together and put it on the sliced heart in a low flat dish; cover and refrigerate for however long you like, turning the strips over every so often. I left mine in there all day.
Place strips on the dryer trays and dry at 155 F for as long as it takes – the weather and ambient temperature will have something to say about this. Yesterday (early November in Oregon) it took seven and a half hours.
That’s it! As a note, I should say that I like plain (no marinade or rub) jerky too, so this may be too “unflavored” for you, although to me the marinade’s flaver is quite noticeable. But the stuff in the stores…well, it’s hard to imagine any of my Indian heroes ever eating that crap; Dull Knife or Crazy Horse would have spit it out, I suspect. This would make great pemmican, but that’s another story for another time.