Growing up, I have always loved my Mom’s khô bò (beef jerky). Each bite was tender and packed full of flavors. It was an addictive snack by itself or in a beef jerky salad with green papaya or spaghetti squash. Store-bought beef jerky, which is hard to chew and tasting only of soy sauce and chilli pepper just can’t compete. When I bought a food dehydrator for one of our cooking experiments (making beef crackling, subject of another post), it was time to ask Mom for her khô bò recipe.
What she sent back was just a list of ingredients (with no measurements, of course ) and a general sketch of the method. It was so different from the detailed recipe she wrote for spring roll dipping sauce. A measure of my progress in cooking? After a couple batches with consistent success (defined by how much people enjoyed my khô bò), here’s my adapted recipe.
- Beef (top/bottom round): 1lb
- Water: 1 cup
- Sugar: 1/4 cup
- Lemongrass: 4 tbsps (minced)
- Honey: 1 tsp
- Mai Quế Lộ cooking wine (see notes below): 2 tsps
- 5-spice powder: 1 tsp
- Soy sauce: 2 tsp
- Pepper: 1 tsp
- Sesame oil: 2 tsps
- Garlic: 8 cloves (minced)
- Chilli pepper powder or crushed chilli pepper
- Salted kumquats: 6 fruits (minced) (optional)
- Salted kumquat brine: 2 tsps (optional)
- Beef: Slice beef into thin slices (~1/8in thick). It’s probably easiest if you could ask people at the supermarket’s meat counter to slice the beef for you. Otherwise, you can freeze beef for 30-45 minutes to make it easier to slice with a sharp knife
- Heat a pot of water on the stove until it gets to ~85 degrees Celsius (185F). I used a thermometer to check water temperature, but you can probably guess by looking at bubble patterns in the water.
- Dip the beef slices into the 85-degree water quickly, then drain. Notice how cloudy the water gets
- Repeat the process 3-4 times, until the water is clear and free of bubbles when beef slices are dipped into the water
- Drain beef, then place the slices in a cheesecloth or cloth bag and squeeze out excess water until dry. Set beef slices aside
- Warm up a cup of water in the microwave for about a minute (or use warm water ~50 degrees Celsius). Dissolve sugar in the warm water, then add all the other ingredients. Adjust seasoning to taste, then add beef slices and marinade for 24 hours
- Dry beef slices in food dehydrator. Every 45 minutes, take beef slices out to dip back into the marinade, then continue drying. Repeat the process until all marinade is used up. Then dry until all beef slices are dry.
Notes on rượu Mai Quế Lộ (Mai Quế Lộ cooking wine):
- My mom’s version of MQL cooking wine is made from mixing dry roasted cinnamon, star anise and cloves in vodka and letting it age for a few months (note the deep color after aging for 3 months)
- I am not sure why this cooking wine is called Mai Quế Lộ when it doesn’t seem to be at all similar to the Mei Kwei Lu Chinese cooking wine you can find at Chinese/Vietnamese markets (at least based on the recipes and descriptions for the Chinese cooking wine that I can find on the web). The point is I don’t think you can buy Mei Kwei Lu Chinese cooking wine to use for this recipe because that wine’s flavor profile is probably different from this home-made liquor mix.
Notes on inclusion of salted kumquats:
- My Mom’s recipe didn’t call for salted kumquats. While I was tasting and adjusting the marinade, I noticed that it needed to be a little bit saltier. I reached for the salt jar and my brain stopped me in my track “wait a minute, I have something salty and a lot more flavorful! What is it???” The answer was salted kumquats, of course.
- I was glad I had salted kumquats around in my pantry for such an occasion. The aged flavor of salted kumquats blended very well with the rest of the khô bò spices and the citrusy note added yet another layer to the complex flavors of this version of beef jerky.
I gave my good friend J a taste of this beef jerky with kumquat to ask for his opinion so I could include a quote in this post. All I got was “MMMMmmmmmMMMMMmmmm….”. That’s a pretty good if inarticulate reaction, I suppose