This is not Cuban. Far from it. From everything I know about my Cuban food, beef jerky is the furthest thing from delectable food. It’s unheard of. We know nothing of the like. But, we are huge carnivores. Since Cuba is a pretty great representation of virgin, natural land, the cattle there are robust in theory, making the beef inventory a well-rounded one. In practice, beef is super scarce, still. Though the political climate is dramatically changing and getting warmer by the day, reality is my people are not immediately seeing the benefits we are Stateside. I know I’m going off-topic here, but I want to segue into a deeper conversation about food, food politics, and food equality in my home island. For now, just know that beef is beloved, but not so readily accessible. Much like in Spain, though for different reasons, pork is the meat of choice.
Since we love and consume meat probably as much as Americans, we have a bounty of meat dishes, my favorite being oxtail. Oh, glorious oxtails. But we also have ropa vieja, arguably our national beef dish.
When the Today Show called and invited me back on, this time to chat about the dynamic trend in artisanal beef jerky, my light bulb went off. Even though I was exploring the growing trend in craft jerky and the abundance of new labels dishing out every unimaginable flavour and texture of jerky, I thought it’d be the perfect opportunity to make my own jerky, with a bold Cuban twist. And, there was an added benefit of introducing an all-American snack to my Latin clients, friends and readers. The trick would be incorporate true Latin flavours. In all my research on this burgeouning jerky hype, not a one embodied flavors or styled after known Latin plates.
Oh, but I sure did think of the easiest way of making it work. Ropa vieja is pulled flank steak with a simple marinade of garlic and lime juice. That sets the tone but the deliciousness comes in the pot of ruby gold: tomato sauce, red wine and a handful spices and herbs.
If I translated that recipe into an American treat with the right technique, I’d be on to something.
Nothing like wonderfully executing a novel idea.
I tried it out a few times before getting to NY and was excited to show it off on air. Only, my excitement was mildly dimmed by lack of real time. As things go on live TV, every second counts. Tamron and I, in all our girlie “hostess with mostess” chit chat, got carried away and took precious seconds away from the DIY demo. I had my redemption when Willie Geist (ladies, he’s even cuter and taller in person) came out of nowhere to get the hookup. He meandered his way through the set, tasting the designer brands we featured, ending at our end of the table with this divine rendition of carne seca con el toque cubano. ¡Lo maximo!
Tamron, Willie and I noshed on my jerky and called it a day. If you didn’t see, check it out in this last post on salted caramel popcorn with honey chipotle beef jerky.
Since I left the viewers hanging, I thought I’d get to the points I wanted to…
If you’re not quite sure what they hype is about, consider these things! I’ll make you a fan out of a slab of meat dried out and saturated in your favourite ingredients.
BACON IS SO PASSE
Don’t be mad, but it really is. I’m probably partial in this assessment since I don’t eat pork, but even my closest bacon-loving friends are moving onto different things. Everything has its 15 minutes of fame. No one’s suggesting bacon is a wrap, but surely there’s plenty of space for showcasing other goodies. Artisanal beef jerky is that new IT thing. Add it to everything. Seriously.
THE HEALTHY PUNCH
Unlike pork rinds and donuts laced in bacon bits, beef jerky is super high in protein. It’s real beef after all. It’s preferred over potato chips, tortillas chips, Doritos, cookies, milk chocolate bars… you know, the stuff we crave when we’re not nutritionally satisfied It’s also totally guilt-free. Until you have 5 bags, or 10 ounces worth. Then we have problem. Like headaches.
THE EASY SNACK
Buy it or make it. Whichever way you get your hands on it, it’s the perfect snack to carry all over. For me personally, it’s the most genius travel food. I mean, with the slim to none offerings on flights these days, I’ll pack a few bags of this stuff to keep me good! The kids will love it. Your husband will thank you for harboring it. You will love yourself so much more for treating your body right and forgoing that back of potato chips. Keep your struggle to a minimum!
MAKE IT YOURSELF
Here’s the thing, though. This ultra chic trend is expensive. The more popular brands can cost you at least $8 for 2 oz. Insane, I know. All things sexy and luxe cost a dime or two. I’m all for that. But, if you want to be a part of the talking clique but need to be a bit more prudent, make it yourself. Get crafty. Making it yourself is the absolute perfect reason to let your creative self come out. Basically, it’s taking your favourite marinade and coating your preferred cut for an entire day. Dehydrate it in a dehydrator, if you have one… or, go the total homestyle way and dry it out in the oven. Or like we’d probably do in Cuba: hang dry in open air. You must have patience.
Some like it crispy others like it softer and more tender. Some love it hot and spicy. Some like it delicate and sweet. Your finished product will depend on several things: the cut of beef, how thick or thin you sliced, and how long you dried it out. And that can also be affected by your particular oven. In my DIY process, I learned my mother and brothers are new addicts of the high flavor profiles. Mami likes it really soft and tender while my brothers prefer it crunchier. I had to strike a good balance that’d appeal to both. This stash here did that. I made them a bit thicker for my mom. The super thin pieces I’ve shared with her over the course of my research didn’t leave her to enthused. Some pieces are a bit crunchy and more dried out. I carefully monitored some to make sure they were more tender. Just the way I like it. There’s technique for sure. But ultimately, your palate will let you know what’s right.
From my kitchen to yours, here’s a perfectly simple and wildly tasty beef jerky or carne seca with a rustic touch of Cuban goodness. Make it. Love it. Gift it. Repeat.