Swedish Jerky - Torkat Kött

Traditional, dried caribou meat is a delicacy from Sweden that is simple to make yet tastes absolutely amazing. While I don't have access to caribou you can get very close to the original with whitetail venison.

The finished result will showcase the meat in all it's natural flavors only enhanced by salt and if you so choose, by smoke.

Here you can read the traditional as well as my modern take on this world-class jerky.


The traditional way.

Traditionally the Sami people, that live in the Northern region of Sweden, will salt, and later dry the meat in the cold and windy April climate. As the meat dries the water content will evaporate while all the minerals and natural flavors will remain. Thicker pieces are commonly stretched out with wood sticks to speed up the process.

The caribou is slaughtered in late September. The meat that is set aside for drying will first be salted, layered, and packed in barrels. Caribou fat is laid on top to protect it from damaging air and the barrels will be sealed shut. My understanding is that the meat is only lightly salted. After cleaning, skinning, and removing the caribou head and the shanks, the slaughter ready caribou will weigh around 45 kg (100 lbs) and typically it only requires 0.8kg of salt. The barrel-packed meat will rest for several months until the harsh winter temperature yields to the cool April spring weather.

The meat will now hang one-by-one with free nature airflow to dry it. The colder and the windier it is, the better. The cold wind will help create a pellicle, a hard surface, that protects the meat from flies and bacterial degradation. If rain is frequent, the meat is moved to a hut (kåta). The meat is finished drying when it feels right to the touch. This typically takes a few weeks.

Traditionally, dried meat is used not only as a snack but also as meat when cooking. When used for cooking, the dried meat is rehydrated and then slow-cooked until soft.

Dean Biggins (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service) - US FWS, DIVISION OF PUBLIC AFFAIRS, WO3772-023

This image or recording is the work of a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service employee, taken or made as part of that person's official duties. As a work of the U.S. federal government, the image is in the public domain.

TasteOfTheWood's Torkade Kött

The traditional way would use an estimated 1.8% salt, the percentage is calculated with the weight of the bones.

With the removal of bones, I have found that 2% is just not enough and 2.5% salt content is too heavy on the salt side.

2.25% is my preference and I think it gives a result that is very close in salt content to the original.

My preferred cut for dried meat is the top round. Any other muscle cut would probably also work well, such as backstrap or bottom round. A trimmed, butterflied heart would work well for this also if you go for the smoked version of torkat kött.

Here in Montana I typically use whitetail for torkat kött. I have also had good success with mule deer and elk. I like both the smoked version and the non-smoked version of this kind of jerky. If you don't know which one to try first, I recommend starting with the cold smoked one.


Ingredients

  • trimmed, lean cuts of venison. A top round or bottom round would be great choices.

  • 2.25% kosher salt (or any non-iodine salt)


Equipment

  1. pellets or sawdust for smoking.

  2. Butcher's twine.

  3. A 3 foot tall cardboard box, a wooden bar and A-Maze-N cold smoker, or a designated cold smoking space

The finished result will be very dark, almost black on the surface. My aging/drying chamber is inoculated with penicillium nalgiovense which will give the drying meat, even this smoked cut, a nice white coating.

Instructions

  1. Weigh the meat after trimming away silverskin and surface fat.

  2. Measure out 2.25% non-iodide salt based on the gram weight of the meat.
    It doesn't matter what salt you use as long as it's without iodide or other additives. Pure salts such as rock salt, kosher salt, and pickling salt are different volume-wise but identical weight-wise. For this reason, any salume recipe worth its salt (pun intended) should go by weight and not by volume for salt amounts.

  3. Rub the salt into the meat and package it into vacuum bags. Add any leftover salt into the bag and vacuum seal it.

  4. Leave the bag at fridge temperature for at least 2 weeks/inch thickness and up to several months. During this time the salt will penetrate the meat. Longer time will help equalize the salt content throughout and the meat will continue to age and improve. If anything, err on the side of a longer time in the vacuum bag rather than the opposite. It's well worth giving the meat some extra time, even months, considering that the Sami people leave the meat for about 5 months, and their torkat kött is spectacular. As the meat sits, it will also continue to age and break down muscle fibers and enabling more flavors to come through.

  5. Once the salting is done you should weigh the meat. While you can go "by touch" to know if the meat is done drying I recommend using the exact, measured way when you start out with salume. It's simple, measure in grams each piece of meat, write it down on a piece of paper and attach it with butcher's twine to the cut.

  6. Cold smoking is optional but recommended. The meat is hanging by hooks and is cold smoked for 12-14 hours. Typically, I do this in the wintertime at 32F or even a bit colder. If you have enough meat then maybe try one with smoking and one without. Both will be excellent and very different. Don't worry if you don't have a cold smoker, you can make one for practically no $ at all in just a few minutes.

  7. The meat is hanging in cool storage with some airflow. Ideal humidity at around 75% RH but drier will typically work too with deer if the cut is only a couple of inches thick.

    If you don't have a special place to dry your meat, then just do it in March - April if you live in a cold climate region. There won't be any flies and it'll be closer to the traditional method. Just hang it outside, the more wind, the better.

  8. The meat is done when it has reached at least 35% - 45% weight loss. It will typically take 2 weeks - 6 weeks depending on the thickness of the meat and the drying conditions. My recommendation is to go for 38% - 40% weight loss. This is also a good time to get a feeling of the resistance of the meat when you gently press and bend it. Make a mental note of how it feels in case you would prefer to go "by touch" in the future.

  9. Any white mold that has formed can be wiped off with a cloth dampened with water.

  10. After an obligatory taste test the meat is again vacuum packed and left for at least a couple of months up to many years. While this isn't absolutely necessary, it will help to equalize water distribution across the meat for a better taste experience. The meat will during this time continue to mature, age with muscle fiber breakdown, and continue to develop and improve in flavor.


If you don't have a cold smoker, then MacGyver one yourself for a dollar or two [video]. Take a leftover box, drill some holes, add a hole for the chimney and hang the meat over alder sawdust or an A-MAZE-N pellet smoker.

A beautiful smoke ring can be seen.

From start to finish, this smoked dried meat took almost 2 months. Another few months maturing in a vacuum-packed bag will continue to improve its flavors.