Machaca is a traditional method of preserving meat originating in northern Mexico. Herre on Big Turtle Creek we like to explore food preservation methods from other parts of the world where they have to deal with extreme summer heat. In traditional machaca beef is salted and dried, then rehydrated, shredded and dried again. It is served with scrambled eggs and cheese in a flour tortilla. Modern machaca recipes call for the beef to be stewed and seasoned then shredded and served as a fresh product without the traditional steps that enable preservation without refrigeration.
What to do with the meat from a shoulder of venison can be a challenge due to the amount of connective tissue – silver skin – present. It doesn’t grind well without extensive trimming and many people don’t tolerate that much “chew” in their meat dishes. Often cuts like shank end up being given to the dogs. It does can well, though, and that was the beginning of my thought process in developing my own hybrid version of venison machaca.
Lianna helped me debone the two shoulders. It was her first time for this particular task, though not at all her first time using a knife. At almost 13 she can truthfully say she’s been helping Momo butcher and cut up meat for years. She did a great job.
This particular deer didn’t bleed out as well as we would have liked so we soaked the meat in a weak salt brine overnight to help draw out the blood. In thinking this process through I considered what we knew about canning venison shoulder. Once pressure canned these tissue bound pieces of meat are easy to separate from the fascia and tendon, so the next morning we got out the pressure cooker and cooked all the machaca meat for about an hour until it literally fell apart in our fingers. We used a rack and only about 2 inches of water to cook. Almost all the connective tissue with the exception of the largest pieces of tendon literally dissolved into gelatin under the extended heat and pressure yielding a very rich broth. We picked the meat over, shredded it then chopped it into roughly 1/2 inch pieces. These we put back into a large pot along with the broth and seasoned it well with salt, chili powder, onion, garlic and cumin. We cooked the mixture until the broth was almost cooked away.
Next, we spread the meat in a layer about 1” thick on large cookie sheets and placed them in a slow oven with the door propped open to dry.
Drying took close to 8 hours. When no moisture was detectable and the meat was crisp we used a pancake turner to loosen any stuck bits from the sheets to be stored in jars. The machaca can be rehydrated and used in the traditional manner with eggs and cheese on tortillas, in burritos and tacos, in chili and even crumbled and sprinkled over salads or casseroles.