Jerky as Culinary Art

Mac and cheese, malt milkshakes, and other downscale treats are popping up on upscale restaurant menus. So where's the beef jerky? Look closely. Even if you don't see strips of the brittle and deeply flavorful meat on your three-star plate, jerky may be the secret ingredient that takes your dish from decent to divine.

Crunchy and Smoky Culinary Art

Yes, the cowboy's comfort food is becoming a classy condiment. Jerky is lurking in all sorts of haute cuisine, adding a smoky tinge to your papaya salsa or an extra crunch to your pear gorgonzola salad. One chef calls it his "secret ingredient" and "a great weapon to have in [your] culinary arsenal." Hailing the "delicious, smoky flavor and inimitable texture," he offers the following suggestions for turning jerky into culinary art:
  • Sprinkle chopped jerky bits on salads or add to omelets or dips for extra crunchiness
  • Grind the jerky into powder and use it as a spice for soups, stews, or marinades
  • Kick your salsa or guacamole up a notch with some jerky powder

Echarqui History

Jerky has come a long way from its humble origins among the world's nomadic tribes. There are Tibetan, Vietnamese, and Native American traditional recipes. The word 'jerky' derives from the Spanish charqui, itself derived from the Quechua Indian word echarqui. Back in the pioneer days, jerky was typically wind and sun-dried strips of buffalo meat spiced with berries and melted bone marrow or fat.

From the Frontier to the Culinary School Classroom

Culinary schools may not yet teach the traditional art of jerky-making, but gourmet 'craft jerky' is gaining popularity. For the culinary home-schooler, Chef Brian Polcyn and Michael Ruhlman's book Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing offers recipes and instructions for curing jerky.

Given the new respect the backwoods snack food has garnered, it may be just a matter of time before culinary schools incorporate the art of jerky-making into their curricula.