Pemmican. The ultimate survival food. I’ve been researching ways of food preservation and the topic of pemmican would come up every time.
Pemmican is a meat product that has a heavy concentration of protein and fat. A staple in Native American cuisine, pemmican was generally made with Bison. This preserved meat came in especially useful during the winter months with North American colonist and Canadian hunters as food was scarce.
This way of meat preservation is slowly fading since the advent of refrigeration and I think it’s very important to keep this tradition alive. We are living in crazy times and sometimes going back and learning from our past will help us moving forward.
Pemmican is known for providing energy and protein in a very small serving. This calorie dense super survival food is light weight, has a long shelf life, and is very easy to make. Today we are going to be making pemmican a couple different ways and what I can tell you is that there isn’t one definitive recipe. We can all agree that lean mean and melted fat are 2 quintessential ingredients but the additives are left up to the creativity of the pemmican maker. With that being said the more ingredients you add to pemmican the lower the shelf life becomes. If you just stick to meat and fat you will have a survival food that could last for 25+ years.
Our first way of making pemmican is very low tech. This involves slicing our lean beef, pounding it till its paper thin, then drying the meat in the sun on a very hot day with low humidity. I placed my meat on drying racks stacked on top of each other. You can also dry your meat by a camp fire. Which ever way you choose to dry your meat you will want to make sure your meat is cracker dry once finished. It should easily break apart if you try to bend it.
Once our meat is dry we will use a mortar & pestle to turn it into a course meat powder. As soon as out meat has been turned into a powder we will be adding rendered beef suet to the meat. Suet is the fat around the kidneys of the cow and works best for pemmican because it stays hard at room temperature and will help to preserve your meat. Stay away from lard or any nut oils as they will tend to go rancid faster.
The second way we will be making pemmican is with the addition of fruit and salt using the modern appliances in our kitchen. This way produced a better texture and a better flavor in our pemmican but reduced the shelf life.
We will be slicing our lean beef 1/4 inch thin and 3/4 inch wide. Just like you would for beef jerky. Unlike beef jerky Pemmican is not seasoned prior to drying. We will be using our Smokin It smoker along with Bella’s Cold Smoke Generator to dry the meat and achieve a nice smoky flavor. Our cold smoker does a great job at smoking gently for long periods and this is exactly what I’m looking for. A little Pecan and Apple wood over a 10 hour period should resemble the flavor of Pemmican being dried over a gentle camp fire.
My starting temp will be around 200F for about an hour. I’ll then reduce the heat to 165F for about 12 hours or until the meat is cracker dry. I don’t want any moisture at all in this beef.
Once my meat has completely dried out I’ll be using my blender (Vitamix 750) to completely pulverize the meat and turn it into a powder. The traditional method of doing this was to use a mortar & pestle. After I have my meat powder I can set that to the side to prepare my fruit powder.
Using fruit in Pemmican is completely optional. It does give it a nice flavor but it also shortens the shelf life (by how much I don’t know). Today I’ll be dehydrating blueberries, apricots, bananas, and cranberries to add to my pemmican. You can add any fruit you want as long as it’s completely dried. The same principal that we used to make the beef powder is applied to the fruit as we do not want any moisture left in the fruit. Water is the enemy of food preservation. I am using an Excalibur Dehydrator to dry my fruit and once it’s finished I’ll finish the process by placing them in my blender for a few seconds till I have a lovely fruit powder.
The last and arguably the most important element to this recipe is the fat. Don’t use lard. It’s too soft and gives the pemmican an unsatisfying texture. You need a hard fat that has a high melting point and solidifies quickly at room temperature. Bison fat works great but isn’t readily available. Beef tallow is a great option as we can generally get it from our local butcher, the supermarket, or Amazon!!
If you can get already rendered tallow that is great. I couldn’t, so I had to render my own. No big deal as I ran the suet through my meat grinder, placed it in my crock pot, then strained it through some cheese cloth. VOILA!!
The last step is assembly. I took equal weight meat powder to fruit powder and added 1.5% kosher salt to it. Mixed well. Then I added the same weight in liquid tallow. I mixed it well, placed it in a mold, and refrigerated for a few hours. Once finished I took it out and cut it into squares. Pemmican complete!! Store in a vac bag in a cool dark place.
Enjoy the video where I take you through the entire process. If you have any questions let me know..
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