I was recently daydreaming about the green papaya salad they serve at Bodega Bistro, on Larkin in SF, and especially about that Vietnamese-style beef jerky they use in it, and wanted to try making it. I cruised around the net looking for ideas on how to make it (the always-informative Andrea Nguyen has a wonderful-sounding one), and was relieved to find that most are done in the oven. Why relief?? Well, I’m getting slightly jaded about my dehydrator, with which I usually make my jerky, and which was purchased several years ago with the idea of jumping full-bore down a vegan path, just for fun and enlightenment. But the dehydrator has left me all “eh.” And it takes up WAY too much space! So oven-dried jerky, here we come.
A little over a year ago I wrote about some beef jerky I was regularly making. I still like that jerky, a lot, but the one I made today was truly outstanding. I started emptying my pantry, looking for the most umami I could pack into the meat. The jerky I made was an umami play on the classic Vietnamese beef jerky, which is made with lemongrass, brown sugar, fish sauce, and soy sauce. This dish is slightly more complicated than most breakaway dishes, in that it requires a multiple steps every half hour or so, though most of that is pretty passive, so it doesn’t feel very hard/big dealish.
It has insane levels of umami, and a dark, bronzed appearance. This is total crack. Makes one pound of jerky. It’s especially nice julienned, and sprinkled into salads.
Umami Beef Jerky, Redux
- 2 tablespoons Japanese soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons Chinese thin soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons fish sauce
- 2 tablespoons Bragg’s amino acids (forgive this hippie transgression, but it really does pack an umami wallop)
- 2 tablespoons Chinese black vinegar
- about a quarter cup of minced lemongrass
- large pinch ancho chile pepper, ground
- large pinch aleppo pepper (just cause it was lying around)
- 1/2 cup coconut syrup, AKA palm juice
- 2 or 2.5 pounds beef rump/eye of round
1) Freeze the beef for an hour to really firm it up, which makes it very easy to slice. I used my scary-sharp new Shun bread knife for this, but you could also use a sashimi knife or just your trusted very sharp chef’s knife.
2) Slice it as thinly as you can; try not to exceed 1/8 of an inch if you can. Thinner slices allow the marinade to penetrate better, which results in tastier jerky.
3) Make the marinade in a large bowl, one big enough to hold all the sliced beef. In it, whisk together all the remaining ingredients.
4) Add the beef to the marinade and mix thoroughly (I use my hands). Let it marinate in the refrigerator for a minimum of an hour, though you could probably marinate it for much longer, including overnight).
5) Move two racks in your oven to the uppermost and bottommost positions, and preheat to 300F.
6) Prepare your pans. Use two standard baking sheets (officially called “quarter sheets” and measuring 9 x 13 inches). Lay a piece of foil over each one, then set up a rack to rest on the foil/pan. I use wire cookie cooling racks.
7) Gently squeeze the beef to dry it out a bit. Get as much liquid out as you can, but don’t go too crazy.
8 Carefully place the beef on the racks. Don’t overlap the beef; you should have enough space to spread them out comfortably but snugly.
9) Bake for 30 minutes. Using tongs, flip each piece, and reverse the order of the pans (so that the one previously on top is now on the bottom, and vice versa).
10) Bake for another 30 minutes. Taste a few. They should be pretty close to done, but if you deem it requires more time, give it some more. Don’t go overboard though – excess carmelization can impart bitter flavors. It should be thoroughly browned and extremely tasty!