Last week we covered making Culinary Powders. In that article I mentioned dehydration and how it was a whole topic unto itself. So here we are a week later, ready to dive into dehydration. Yes, I also know that this is a simple topic to cover but there are still some really important things to understand before you just start dehydrating all your fruits, veggies, and meats. Can you dehydrate chicken to make chicken jerky? How about whole fruits, candies or even chocolates? What works
“What can and can’t be dehydrated?”
So, dehydrating is a really simple topic. Blowing air over a food to remove moisture and once the moisture is removed the food becomes either crispy or chewy. Honestly some of the best results are from leaner meats, fruits, and veggies. But the biggest issue comes with what doesn’t work. Just because something is placed in a dehydrator doesn’t mean it comes out as a thin crispy version of itself.
When it comes to dehydration, what tool should you use? Some people place things in an oven that is off, overnight. Sometimes the oven is even on its lowest setting. I think both of these are a recipe for inconsistency and/or disaster. The best way to dehydrate foods is in a dehydrator. High quality dehydrators have multiple racks, a timer, and most importantly a thermostat. This allows you to dial in your recipe so your beef jerky doesn’t come out hard as a rock. It’s always good to have the tools with the most options to create recipes that don’t fail.
Let’s start with the easiest of the bunch, fruits and veggies! All fruits and veggies should be peeled. The peels of most fruits and veggies will not dehydrate at the same rate as the pulp or flesh. This will result in a thick wrinkly skin and a crispy center. This makes the parts closest to the skin more susceptible to getting soggy as they will commonly hold on to moisture longer. While this does work it will need a lot of extra time to be sure it has completely dried. A good test is to break open a piece of dehydrated food to check near the skins. Poke the thicker part near the skin, if there is a soft interior they will need more time. Also, do not try to dehydrate any whole fruit, the skin will protect it and not allow enough moisture to be released. All in all the skins of fruits and veggies are quite amazing at protecting the flesh, but they should be removed before dehydrating more often than not. Especially if you are turning these into a powder the skin would be a poor choice. Some fruits have a high sugar content as well anything with an extremely high sugar content can tend to just become chewy. This works great for things like thick sliced pineapple. If you do want them to be crispy then they will need to be sliced very thin. Which leads me to other foods with a high sugar content, things like candies and marshmallows. While some of these can work they will need time. Also most candies containing corn syrup will not dry out well, the invert sugar holds onto the water. So do give these things a try if you want, but just know something just won’t work. Other items that work well in a dehydrator are meringues and other stable foams. These will dry out easily without the worry that they could brown from being overheated.
Meats are surprisingly easy to dehydrate. But you want to look out for meats with a high fat content especially if you are going to keep the jerky for a long time. Fats do not dehydrate, because fats are not moisture. So large portions of fat can go rancid. Small amounts of fat are okay but just be mindful that any piece of fat larger than the width of a pencil will need to be removed. Also the meats will need to be salted, salt is a preservative and helps draw out the moisture. Prague powder #1 is actually a great ingredient for helping keep the meat free from botulism ( a dangerous pathogen). Most dehydrators have a heated setting and we suggest setting the heat to 140F as an added measure to keep the jerky safe. Any heat lower than this and without using the prague powder #1 could be extremely dangerous. This brings me to chicken, chicken could also be made into jerky but it is not the safest endeavor. We tinkered with the idea of making a chicken jerky but by health standards chicken will need to be cooked to an internal temperature of 165 for 15 seconds. This fully cooked chicken doesnt make for a great jerky. Yes, there are other ways to pasteurize chicken, I am aware but is that really a conversation you want to have with your health inspector? I didn’t think so…
Anything can be placed in a dehydrator, just know that the results may vary. Sometimes that’s the fun of getting a new kitchen gadget to play with. See what works and see what doesn’t. That’s where the real magic in cooking is made. Until next time, keep creating and remember if you need a guiding hand we will be here to help.
Give our teriyaki beef jerky recipe a try!