drying-carne-seca

The Carne Seca Experiment

One ingredient that you’ll find on almost every Brazilian restaurant menu is Carne seca. When the menu includes English translations this is often translated literally as ‘dry meat’ – I can’t imagine many people would pick that from the menu! A better translation that you also see used is ‘Jerked Beef’. Before I got to Brazil I thought jerked beef was just beef jerky – dry, salty strips chewed by cowboys in the olden days.

Happily, since those early days I have been enlightened. Rather like that dubious story that Eskimos have 50 words for snow, so Brazilians have several terms for dried, salted meat. Not all the accounts I have found agree, but I will try to explain the differences between the main types.

 

Carne de Sol

Also known as Jabá, this is a speciality of Northeastern Brazil – a region that for most of the year is hot and very dry. Meat (usually beef) is salted and then dried over the space of a couple of days. Originally the drying process was carried out in the sun (hence then name ‘carne de sol’, which translates literally as ‘Sun Meat’), but today it is more commonly dried in a covered location as the drying process is driven mostly by exposure to wind and low humidity rather than sunshine.

The end result is meat with a dry, salty surface that protects the soft, succulent interior – the meat doesn’t require refrigeration and will keep for weeks. When it is ready to be used, the carne de sol is soaked in water for a few hours to reduce the levels of salt – then it is ready to be fried or stewed and used in a variety of classic Northeastern recipes.

paçoca

Not to be confused with the peanut sweet of the same name, Paçoca (pa-SOCK-a) is a dish from the Northeast, made with shredded carne de sol, manioc flour and red onions and garlic. Image source

 

 

Carne Seca

Carne Seca is common throughout South America where it goes by a variety of different names. Originally it was given the name charqui (sounds like ‘sharky’) by the Quechua people and referred to dried, salted llama meat. The word charqui is where the word ‘jerky’ comes from. Carne seca is more heavily salted than carne de sol and dried for longer.

carne-seca-secando

The first time I saw carne seca I was in Bolivia and the meat was drying on a washing line next to laundry. As you can see on faces of my friends, we weren’t exactly filled with a desire to eat the stuff.

 

Now things get a bit murky. Some people use the words Carne Seca and Charque interchangeably, while others say that Charque has a higher salt content and therefore should be treated as a different thing entirely. To confuse matters more, some people also use the term jabá to refer to carne seca. But what the hell – in all cases we’re talking about meat that has been dried and salted to some extent or another. Generally they are soaked to remove the salt, then stewed or shredded and the end results are seriously tasty!

 

 

Home made Carne Seca

So, I’m living in a fairly hot, fairly dry region and I love Carne Seca – it occurred to me the other day that I could probably have a go at making it myself. How hard can it be? Well, it turns out that it’s actually fairly simple. Here is how my first effort went:

I chose a cut of beef that Brazilians call patinho (sounds like ‘patch-EE-nyo’). In English this cut is called Beef Knuckle or Sirloin Tip. It is a lean cut, sold at a mid-range price. I cut the patinho into steaks about 3cm (1 inch) thick and then covered all sides of the meat with a very coarse salt that is used for barbecues (sal grosso).

salting-beef

I laid the steaks in a shallow dish, covered with cling film (clear food wrap) and left the dish (at room temperature) for 24 hours.

 

After 24 hours I checked the dish – the salt had drawn a lot of liquid out of the meat. I poured the liquid away, brushed off the salt, covered the meat in fresh salt and then covered it and waited another 24 hours.

carne-seca

After 4 days the meat was still a bit damp on the surface, but most of the liquid had already been drawn out already.

 

I repeated this process 4 times. Less and less liquid was drawn out of the meat each day and by day 4 there was almost nothing. Now it was time to hang the meat up to dry and that required a little improvisation.

drying-carne-seca

The weather was perfect: dry and sunny with a good breeze. I pushed hooks through the steaks and hung them from a line.

 

I had read somewhere that despite the high salt levels you can still have trouble with insects at this stage. The advice was to cover the meat with a screen or some netting. Lucky for me I had a mosquito net that I had never used.

drying-carne-seca

As I said, some improvisation was required! I pegged the mosquito net so that there was no way that any bugs could get at the meat while it was drying.

 

I hung the meat out in the early morning and took it back in when it got dark. After 2 days it was nicely dried and ready for storage or cooking.

carne-seca

The meat’s surface was now completely dry and had turned greyish.

 

In this state the meat can be stored without refrigeration for months.

carne-seca

Carne seca – literally dry meat. It might not look very nice at this stage, but it gets better!

 

I have to admit that as this was my first time I was not hugely confident that it was going to work, so I wasn’t going to celebrate until I’d actually completed the final steps of cooking, eating and not dying of food poisoning.

I tentatively cut one of the steaks into smallish cubes.

carne-seca

I’ll be honest, I’m not really sure what significance the red line running through the centre of the meat has, but I thought it looked pretty good.

 

To desalinate the meat you either can soak it in water over a fairly long period, changing the water 3 or 4 times, or there you can use the quicker method.  The quicker method involves rinsing the meat in water, then cooking it for 20 minutes in a pressure cooker. After 20 minutes you change the water and cook in the pressure cooker for another 20 minutes. Depending on the levels of salt in the meat you can either stop now or change the water and repeat once more.

Once you’re happy with the saltiness of the meat you can either add it to stews or you can put it in a food processor and hit ‘pulse’ a few times to shred the meat. The carne seca can then be used in all kinds of delicious recipes, such as Carne seca acebolada and Esondidinho.

carne-seca-desfiado

If you haven’t seen shredded carne seca before, this is pretty much exactly what it should look like. For a first time effort I was very happy with the result!

 

 

21 replies
      • The Gritty Poet
        The Gritty Poet says:

        I hesitated at first (kinda prudish I know) but ultimately concluded it was my duty to press ahead. I bet Alex would have cracked instantly had it been him the first to read the post.
        What is this about you commenting food in the future, and under impressive circumstances? I am hoping it means a cooking show on cable since I can no longer tolerate the two French dudes that currently present the only semi-decent culinary programs covering local fare found on Brazilian tv. Some new blood, and a new accent sure would be appreciated in the milieu since that insufferable French tinged Portuguese kills me. And often I get the impression they are overdoing the accent thing on purpose. So I welcome Show do Tom, and if ratings falter do not worry: I am willing to guest star (imagine an episode featuring the improvised cuisine carried out in an MST land grab invasion camp where I talk politics with the radicals while you cook). I think I smell a winner.

        Reply
        • tomlemes
          tomlemes says:

          “I think I smell a winner” – Ha ha! I definitely smell something! 😉

          All shall be revealed in the next few weeks regarding my mystery projects – unfortunately there are no book/TV deals to announce (yet!).

          Reply
  1. Chris Wright
    Chris Wright says:

    Hi Tom great post. As each day passes you’re becoming a brazil based version of one of my favourite cooking programs ‘Two Hairy Bikers’.

    The best Carne Seca I had was in Sonora a Mexican State near the US border. No disrespect to my yank mates but the beef jerky I tried was only a truckers treat.

    Just finished Palin’s 4 episodes on Brazil. It was a bit weak and superficial but he still has the occasional witty remark.

    Have you seen it? What did you reckon?

    Reply
    • tomlemes
      tomlemes says:

      Thanks Chris! There are a few culinary projects coming up in the next few months – watch this space as I’ll be getting the chance to pretend I’m a proper food writer in some fairly impressive circumstances! 😀

      I can believe the carne seca in Mexico was good – pretty much everything I had in Mexico was amazing.

      I never got round to seeing Palin’s take on Brazil though I heard many reviews and they all pretty much agreed with yours. I was quite excited to hear that he met Dadá in Bahia – she was on of the highlights when we were in Salvador. I’ll get my act together and watch it one day! 🙂

      Dadá

      Reply
  2. Chris Wright
    Chris Wright says:

    Bahia, Rio and Sampa on my wish list. I’ll be waiting on your chefs book to see what quirky brazilian recipes you put in.

    True Mexico is a foodie’s paradise – although I drew the line at having to ha e chilli on my breakfast fruit!

    That Dada is a real character and he interviewed her well in following her round several markets. I’m a big fan of Criolo’s last album as its one of thosr albums that straddles several genres and still sounds cool and original. But his interview with Palin involved one question and seeing him play in his old Sampa barrio – pathetic really.

    Good luck on the upcoming culinary projects. I admire the way you’re enjoying and exploring the culture without going 100% native.

    Reply
  3. Grace
    Grace says:

    My grandmother, who no longer is living, used to make carne machaca, which is the carne seca. You did a fine job in making your carne seca.
    I grew up in Tucson in the 50’s and 60’s and we would go to our grandmother’s every week for Sunday dinner. Invariably we had the best meal. She grew up on a ranch in sonora and started cooking at a very young age.
    To prepare the meat, she pounded it first, then hung the meat in her enclosed screened in porch over a string that hung from one side to the other. I don’t know how long she would have it there, but that’s how she dried it. It can be almost any kind of meat. She would make machaca soup with potatoes or we’d have it like a breakfast with eggs and flour tortillas. You can put potatoes and salsa in there too.
    Once the meat was dry, she would shred it and cook it whenever it was convenient for her. I wish I would have learned more from her because she cooked amazing Sonoran style food.
    Anyway, you did a good job of trying to replicate the carne seca. It was certainly one of my favorite foods growing up.

    Reply
    • tomlemes
      tomlemes says:

      Hi Grace – thanks very much for your comment and for sharing your memories. Do you know if your grandmother salted the meat as well as drying it?

      That soup sounds great, as does the egg and carne seca tortillas! I should really experiment more with carne seca.

      Reply
  4. Ricardo
    Ricardo says:

    Great post ! I am a Brazilian from Rio living in Toronto and came across the challenge of explaining the ingredients of the Feijoada I cooked for my Canadian friends. If not for this post I would have failed miserably to explain what Carne Sêca is. I owe you one buddy !

    Reply
    • tomlemes
      tomlemes says:

      Hi Ricardo! That’s funny! I always thought that ‘carne seca’ is a rather bad name – ‘dry meat’ doesn’t sound very appetising does it?! When I show carne seca to my food tour guests from North America, they normally take one look at it and say “Oh! It’s just like beef jerky!” – that’s when I tell them that the word ‘jerky’ comes from the Inca word for dried, salted meat – ‘charque’. Different words for the same stuff!

      Reply
      • Rita
        Rita says:

        Some places in Brazil call Carne Seca as Charque. I never knew it came from an Inca word. Thanks. Also it called “Sun meat” or carne de sol.

        Reply
  5. Lucas Eller
    Lucas Eller says:

    I used the information on your website to explain to Americans what carne seca means, when making a feijoada. My friends were like “I’m very scare of it!”Then everyone loved it. Without carne seca and Portuguese smoked pork sausage linguica, I don’t think a black bean stew qualifies for a decent feijoada. Here’s a recipe for my ultimate Brazil’s national dish, a 5 year research’s work: http://vivalifestyles.net/whats-feijoada/

    Reply
    • tomlemes
      tomlemes says:

      Hey Lucas – thanks for your comment. I’m so glad the article was helpful to you. I 100% agree – feijoada without carne seca and liguica just isn’t feijoada. I’m going to test out your recipe when I get back to Brazil (I’m travelling at the moment 🙂

      Reply
  6. Leonardo
    Leonardo says:

    I make my own “Carne de Charque” here in Calgary, Alberta Canadá, after 6 years dreaming about it. As I am from NE of Brazil, that is something you MUST HAVE in your kitchen. Very versatile ingredient, goes well with anything you try it with: from scrambled eggs in the morning, cooked inside a whole squash, with Cassava (grated and cooked with whipping cream), even stuffed in an empanada with thin slices of onions. However, there is no record of any popular sweet dish with it. In some poor areas in NE of Brazil, people eat little bites of raw dry meat with Cachaça, as a sip and go snack.

    If you ever go to Brazil, you MUST visit the NE. Very rich and unique culinary. Some of the most famous dishes:

    1) Feijoada
    2) Dobradinha
    3) Carne de Sol na nata
    4) Escondidinho de charque
    5) Buchada
    6) Sarapatel
    7) Bode guizado
    8) Fava
    9) Cuscuz com carne de sol
    10) Queijo coalho na brasa
    11) Queijo de manteiga na brasa
    12) Ensopado de Aratu
    13) Bobó de camarão
    14) Acarajé
    15) Vatapá
    16) Chambaril
    17) Bacalhau à Gomes de Sá
    18) Passa de caju.
    19) Bolo de rolo
    20) Cocada
    Just copy/paste the name into Google images and check the dishes out. GOOD LUCK!!! LOL

    Reply
    • tomlemes
      tomlemes says:

      Hi Leonardo – what a great list, thanks for that! I love comida nordestina! 🙂 I’m familiar with quite a few of these dishes, but there are definitely some on the list that I haven’t tried yet. I have heard mixed reviews of buchada but I’m sure that when it is done well then it is delicious.

      Reply
      • Leonardo
        Leonardo says:

        Hello Tom!
        Personally, I am not a big fan of Buchada. Maybe I haven’t gone to the right place yet, or just my stomach can’t handle all the ingredients stuffed in. Advice: try it in a place with high level of hygiene! In case you have questions about any food from Brazil, do not hesitate to contact me. Best regards!

        Reply

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] include some beef, so attempted to make Carne Seca the week before, following a method I found on Eat Rio’s blog.  However, the weather here in Hove was not warm enough to dry the salted beef outdoors. […]

  2. […] and eaten with bread. In Brazil you will find the dried meat already packaged in most stores though some very admirable people are still keen on making it themselves and drying it up on their clothes …. Any kind of dried meat will work for this recipe as it is shredded and fried with onions after […]

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