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Re: Dehydrating chicken?

Hello Rachel -

You said:

>I didn't know you could successfully dry chicken, and I've
>never before heard of anyone drying fish!  I had always heard that
>chicken's >texture came out so badly when rehydrated that it wasn't worth
>the effort.
>Charlie, do you have some secrets or does it really come out fairly
>palatable >using normal dehydrating techniques?  Do you season the chicken
>before >dehydrating?  What about the fish?  What kinds do you typically
>dry and do you >apply spices, lemon juice, etc. before drying or after?

Good questions!  I will describe the process that I use and you can form
your own opinions about "palatable" and "texture" <g>.

I learned the basics for this particular preservation technique from an
Oregon long distance skier (he had an interesting way that he cached his
resupply packages in the deep winter snow!).  BTW, this counts as an
"electronic" recipe since we traded info over the WLDRNSS ECHO on the old
Fidonet years ago <g>

I am talking about dehydrating (and later using on the trail) cooked meats
and cooked veggies.  I cook both exactly as I would for the home dinner
table - except I usually go with larger quantities to gain economies of
scale.  In fact, when I am getting ready for a hike (either a long hike for
a few people or a short hike for a bunch of people), we tend to eat REAL
good around the house!  These techniques can be easily adapted to smaller
quantities by setting up the dehydrator next to the dinner table and simply
scraping leftovers into it!

I have used about any veggie that I am willing to eat in real life...and I
usually ain't any too picky!  I use fresh, frozen, canned, or dried (as in
beans).  I cook and season each one the way that we like to eat them...and
then I toss them into the dehydrator.  I can put over 30 trays (American
Harvest) to work at once, so I can usually dry as much as I am able to cook
in my normal home kitchen.  I am active in Scouting and sometimes we have
big retorts of cooked veggies left over after a banquet...no problemo -
into the dehydrator they go <VBG>.

The veggies all come out looking like little rocks or twigs.  I dry them
till they crunch and then store each type in a gallon glass jar for a week
or so...or until I get finished with that particular drying fit.  The
air-tight glass jar lets the dryness "equalize" between the batches and
lets me wait to get out the bagging paraphernalia only when I have a lot to
do <g>.  It also lets me bring over the other future hikers and have a
bagging party <VBG>.  Once bagged (1-cup bags), everything goes into the
freezer.  We have little cardboard bins for each different veggie or meat
in our chest freezer.

The meats are done almost the same way.  I like to use the "white" meats
(chicken, turkey, and fish) because I like the taste and there is much less
grease residue to complicate pot clean-up on the trail.  I have tried both
white and dark meat from chicken and turkey...dark has more flavor later,
but it does have more oils to get in the way of clean-up.  I now usually
eat the dark meat at the dinner table and dehydrate the white <g>.
Sometimes we cook whole turkeys and sometimes we buy just the breasts or
bulk cartons of little pieces.  I usually by the big bags (10, 20, or 50
pounds) of skinless, boneless, frozen chicken breasts.  I used to buy
frozen cod in 10 or 20 pound boxes, but it is long gone from the markets
(major MAJOR bummer!).  I now use "cage grown" catfish (local industry,
tastes just like cod!) which I get fresh (I usually get 30 to 50 pounds at
a time of the 4-5 lb fish, cleaned and headed).

I cook and season the meat just the way we like it (stove top cast iron
Dutch oven for the chicken, broil the turkey and fish in the oven).  In all
cases, I do not let the meat sit in the drippings for any time at all (try
to keep it as grease-free as possible).  I put the chicken breasts straight
into the refrigerator (still hot, in a film-covered shallow metal
pan...lets them cool down faster).  I strip the turkey carcass or the fish
and put the meat into the fridge as fast as I can (like the chicken).  BTW,
the bones and drippings are later used to season veggies or make
soup...LOTS of soup <g>.

Once the meat has completely cooled down, I grind it up.  I use a home meat
grinder on the coarsest setting it has...the holes are just big enough to
stick your little finger in (NOT WHILE IT'S RUNNING!!!...<g>).  As soon as
all of that particular batch is ground up, I spread it out on the
dehydrator trays and let it run for a few days (either until I get around
to checking how dry it is or I need the trays for the next batch).  Once it
is dry, I put it into the jars like the veggies.  I use a home vacuum
bagger (Tilia - pulls a commercial grade vacuum!) to do the meat up in
1-cup bags.  The bags go into their little bins in the freezer.

I usually use the lowest (95f) temp setting on the dehydrator for the
veggies and the highest (145f) for the meats.  Nothing scientific...I just
have this vague notion that lower is better (food value) for the veggies (I
keep them on the edge of being raw when I cook them) and that higher is
safer (gets past the prime bacteria-growing conditions quicker) for the
meats.  I haven't noticed that the temp setting makes any later difference
in taste or shelf-life at all.

When my son and I were getting ready to do the PCT, I did up enough of 13
veggies and two meats for the expected six-month hike (350+ man/meals).  We
would call my wife when we hit town and would tell her how many days
resupply to send to the next post office up the trail (6-12 days away, so
there was USUALLY plenty of time for the mail to run...curse the
Unibomber!).  She would go down to the freezer and make up a box with what
ever she thought we ought to eat for that stretch of trail.  We developed a
little algorithm for her use, but we tended to "adjust" it fairly often as
the hike wore on <g>:

1/2 cup of veggie per person per day;
1/4 cup of meat per person per day;
3/4 cup of "carbo" (rice, grits, hash browns, or noodles) per person per day;
and, dehydrated salsa and seasonings to taste.

We went to 1 cup of carbo per person per day toward the end of the hike
when the weather got below freezing.  We also ditched the potatoes and the
wheat noodles and went with grits and rice only (MUCH more energy!).

We usually hiked till dark (or after, sometimes).  I usually "cooked" while
my son set up camp.  I would get a pot of creek (or canteen, if dry
camping) water and put it on to boil while I dug out the food.  I would put
in whatever combination of veggie, meat, carbo and spices we had earlier
decided on (sometimes we would debate all afternoon about what we were
going to fix for dinner <g>).  Once the pot got around to boiling, I would
either let it simmer for a couple of minutes (if we had plenty of fuel) or
immediately turn off the stove.  If we had any cheese left over from lunch
(mozzarella, Swiss, or white colby) I would break it up and toss it in the
pot.  I would cover it and wrap it in my sleeping bag while I changed from
trail to sleep clothing.  We would eat as soon as both of us had made it
into our sleeping bags.  Since I cooked, my son usually cleaned the pot
(ate all visible solids, rinsed with potable water, drank the rinse water,
and then filled the pot to boil for coffee the next morning).  I was often
sleeping within a half hour of stopping to camp...my son sometimes took a
tad longer <g>.

Some numbers:

The professor said that dried veggies in airtight jars (cool place out of
direct sunlight) should last 6 months to a year easy.  The meats in
airtight jars should last 2-4 months before they start to get "musty".
Vacuum bag the meats (commercial grade vacuum) and they should last over a
year.  Put the bags of veggies or meats into the freezer and the clock
doesn't start ticking till you take them out!  I have never had anything go
bad (or I didn't notice it if it did <g>).  I have some meats and veggies
that have been in the freezer since March of '95 and plan to use them on my
next local trip.

We ate cheaper on the trail than we would have at home (bulk buying)...EVEN
when you figure in the postal charges!

We figured that the 13 veggies, 2 meats, and 4 carbo's we used on the PCT
...combined with the major spice combinations that we liked...gave us over
600 different dinner meals that we could make up (as the mood struck us!)
on the trail.  We never even came close to trying them all...we DANG sure
didn't get bored with our dinner choices!

Other than possibly "going cold" during hot weather, I can't imagine doing
trail food any other way on future hikes (distance or group).

Come by for dinner sometime and we can raid the freezer!

y'all come,
            Charlie II

charlie2@ro.com    Huntsville,Al