I still remember the first time I brought home a mess of ducks after a weekend trip to North Dakota.
Beaming with pride, I plopped the Ziplocked bags of gutted birds on the kitchen counter and grinned ear to ear.
"What do you expect me to do with those?" Mom asked.
Having been raised amid hunters, Mother certainly was not naïve to wild game. Still, waterfowl were not her forte.
She tried frying them. She tried baking them. She tried roasting them. No matter how the breasts were cooked, dry, tough, nearly inedible lumps of shoe leather were produced.
When she finally threw up her hands, I took over. What resulted were years of trial and error. As an avid hunter and fisherman, I prided myself in eating whatever I harvested (minus the occasional gopher or rabbit caught harassing Mom's garden, of course) and I wasn't going to give up until I made that meat palatable.
Eventually, I stumbled upon a few recipes that are my favorite to this day (fodder for another column, perhaps?) But I also discovered something else: waterfowl make excellent jerky.
No joke, of all the wild game I've tried dried, ducks and geese, by far, make the hands-down best.
Had it not been for those aforementioned recipes I discovered for ducks, I probably would be jerkying all those, too. These days, I tend to save my duck for table fare, and just dry my geese, which because they are bigger, create palm-sized hunks of salty, snackable deliciousness.
Tips and tricks
Now, making jerky may not be rocket science, but it also isn't like whipping up a batch of pancakes. You don't just dump ingredients all willy-nilly; it is a precise cooking method. The chef essentially is curing the meat. If directions are not followed to the best of abilities, bacteria and food-borne illnesses could result.
Though the methods have changed somewhat, this cooking (curing) method requires the same basic steps and principles pioneered by the Native Americans: thinly slice and salt meat before hanging it to dry.
Nowadays, modern smokers create excellent jerky, but for those of use without the contraption, a dehydrator also works wonders. I've heard from folks that an oven set at a very low temperature can create quality results, though I've never had the chance to try it myself.
With the advent of refrigeration, modern society is more apt to chew on jerky for a snack more so than sustenance, although a package or two certainly comes in handy during those long hunting or hiking treks.
So for anyone wanting a substitute for popcorn at the movies, or maybe some vittles for that long trip up north, here are a few hints, tricks, and techniques to help you get started.
Follow directions: The Internet is a wonderful thing, with literally hundreds, if not thousands of jerky recipes at a surfer's fingertips. However, I tend to be a bit lazy when it comes to rounding up ingredients (I figure I already went through all that work to shoot the game, I don't want to track down spices, too). There are plenty of commercially available kits for making everything from jerky to snack sticks to sausage. My favorite mix is by Shore Lunch, though they discontinued the line and I bought out all the Fargo Scheels' stock on hand (sorry). Hi Mountain Seasonings is another brand I use, and that can be found almost anywhere. No matter what you choose, follow the kit's instructions. It's pretty simple. If the kit says to use two tablespoons of cure per pound of meat, do it. Don't fudge. At a minimum, you'll end up with bad-tasting jerky, and at worst, you could end up in the hospital with botulism or some other nasty bug.
Thin to win: Believe it or not, thick jerky just isn't that practical. Thicker meat takes much longer to smoke or dehydrate than a thinner cut. There are basically three methods to cut meat thinly. The first is to buy a meat slicer. If you don't have one and aren't willing to shell out the money (I don't blame you) then you can try slightly freezing the meat. This firms it up enough so that cuts are easier to create. For some reason, I found out I have a knack for cutting thin strips. The trick is to have a sharp knife. Going at a gob of goose breast with a butter knife is about as pointless as painting a house with a toothbrush. And be sure to cut across the grain. This will help a ton with tenderness.
Seal the deal: Now that you successfully followed directions (hopefully) and created delicious jerky, what do you do? Well, you could eat it all, and if it's been dried correctly, that will not be difficult. But if you're like me and don't fancy eating jerky for breakfast, lunch and dinner, consider investing in a vacuum sealer. Though jerky can last for a few weeks in the fridge, for it to last any longer it should be frozen. To stem freezer burn, vacuum sealers work wonders. Then, when you get the hankering for some salty, meaty goodness, simply take out a frozen bag, let it thaw and you've got jerky that tastes as fresh as the day it was dried.
Tyler Shoberg is Sports Editor of the Pioneer, as well as an avid outdoorsman. He can be reached at 701-451-5717, or email@example.com.