Native peopled have air dried meats for hundreds of years often using lean meat cut thinly into strips. This product is ready to eat (or store) once the texture becomes hard, after a period hanging in the sun.
The drying method of curing meat was sometimes used on its own - but also in conjunction with other methods of preserving, such as curing.
Traditionally, indigenous people made dried strips of meat (e.g. beef sticks) or fillets of fish, by firstly salting, then drying either in the sun, or in ovens at 70-80oC. Drying using natural conditions is less common today than it was once.
WHAT DRYING DOES
Drying decreases the water content in the food, and as such, decreases the microbial activity, and increase the shelf life of the food. Different types of microorganisms will require different levels of moisture in which to survive and be active. If the moisture levels in meat can be decreased below those levels, the deterioration of the meat caused by microbes will slow or stop completely.
This is not an exact science though; because factors other than just water content can also affect microbial activity. Temperature is an obvious factor. Composition of the meat is also important (particularly fat content).
As meat dehydrates it will become:
- A different, smaller and thinner shape
- Harder and less tender (chewier)
- Commonly darker coloured
Most of the nutritional value of meat can be maintained - protein content in particular, does not generally deteriorate through drying.
What Meats to Use
Dried meat will keep for months at room temperatures provided fatty tissue has been removed; fats will become rancid much faster than animal muscle tissue.
Once the meat is dried it should appear as follows:
- It should be uniform in shape and should not have large indentations or grooves – the uniformity of shape indicates that the meat has dried all the way through in a uniform manner
- The colour should be dark red (not grey, green, brown or bright red) and also uniform all over. If the outside is dark red but the inside bright red it means that the meat may have been dried too quickly and the centre still has water content (this can mean the meat is susceptible to bacterial growth)
- It should have a hard texture – soft parts means the meat needs longer drying.
- The meat should be of a mildly salty taste
It should not smell ‘off’ although a flavour that is slightly ‘rancid’ is common for dried meat and not an indication of a bad product
Storing, Preparing and Using Dried Meat
Dried meat is usually packaged after drying - using moisture proof plastic bags or moisture proof containers. This prevents the meat from absorbing moisture from the air and spoiling.
Dried meat can be used dry (sliced or flaked) or rehydrated by submersing in boiled hot water. To rehydrate place in a glass or ceramic bowl and pour on boiling water to just cover the meat. Check the meat to see if it is at the texture you desire after say 2 hours. It can take about 4 hours to rehydrate meat – make sure that after 2 hours you place the meat in a refrigerator to prevent to growth of bacteria and use it the same day as it won’t keep.
Semi-dried meat (where the inside is still moist) can be pelletised by passing it through a grinder and then drying for a further period until dry (usually another 12 hours) and packed into sealed bags or sealed containers. This thoroughly dries the meat without fear of bacterial growth. When reconstituted this meat can be used for a variety of things including additives to soup, for patties, meat balls or hamburgers or in any recipe you would use minced meat. Reconstitute by adding water (1:1 meat to water) and rehydrate for about 30 minutes when it will be ready to us.
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