x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

1,001 Arabian Bites: digging dried meats

Nouf Al-Qasimi loves dried meat products so much she just started mail ordering jerky so she doesn't have to stop eating it long enough to go out and buy more.

I'm a devoted minimalist, but there are three things I hoard: books about food, receptacles for salt and dried meat products. Literature is my favourite form of nourishment, and a longtime collaboration between salt and meat has led to very good things, like bresaola, biltong, bindenfleisch and basterma. These days, I'm really into Krave jerky, and surprisingly, Krave's turkey jerky is even better than the beef. I quickly figured out why: it's less judicious, with more fat and calories.

Although jerky is considered to be a high-protein and low-fat snack, its sodium content and, well, sheer tenacity, makes it a snack that's eaten and sold in relatively small quantities. But the way I eat jerky and other dried meat products wipes out its merits as quickly as I can obliterate the supply of Krave at the nearest grocery store. In fact, I just started mail ordering my jerky so that I don't have to ever stop eating it long enough to go out and buy more. For long car rides, I favour Wellshire Hot 'n' Spicy Tom-Toms Turkey Snack Sticks, with a casing that snaps loudly when bitten into, and a kick that keeps me awake.

I used to love and fear the ads for Slim Jim beef jerky, known for featuring professional wrestlers as their spokesmen. The most notable of these was the late "Macho Man" Randy Savage, who violently yelled at watchers: "Need a little excitement? Snap into a Slim Jim!" It was a little too much "excitement" for my mother, who scrutinised the label when I led her to the Slim Jim display at a store. She wondered aloud what mechanically separated chicken was and why it was an ingredient in a stick of beef jerky. I gave her my best puppy face, but it didn't work. Maybe I should've pulled a Randy Savage.

When my friend Bugsy, a casual salmon fisherman and professional pool shark in King Salmon, Alaska, had eight ounces of Mingua Beef Jerky sent to me last week, I ate most of it within minutes, dipping the extra dry jerky in barbecue sauce. The jerky was so addictively stubborn and dry that it crackled while I chewed. As the writing on the bag suggested, the last remaining shreds were pulverised in a blender and the salty, smoky powder was later sprinkled over a hot buttered baked potato.

When driving through Lancaster Country, Pennsylvania, I like to stop and buy dried beef from Mennonite farmers so I can make creamed chipped beef or dried beef gravy, a breakfast dish good on biscuits or toast. It's found often in mid-Atlantic diners and I probably only love it because I didn't serve in the US military during World War II, when soldiers were fed it day in and day out so relentlessly that Chipped Beef on Toast (SOS) is the name of a book about military humour.

I loved tuna jerky until I went to Alaska and discovered salmon candy, a perfect food. Wild Alaskan salmon fillets are brined with honey or maple syrup, seasoned and smoked to make sticky, chewy nuggets of candied salmon crack. I'm relieved it's not more widely available, but I'm also miserable over it. Closer to home, bottarga (batarekh) is Mediterranean salt-cured and dried silver mullet roe. In Lebanese restaurants, you'll see thin, amber slices of it fanned out on plates, doused with olive oil and garnished with translucent slivers of raw garlic.

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