The USDA says that for safe beef jerky, one should heat the meat all the way through, to 160 degrees, before drying. That would be the internal temperature of a well-done steak.
As an alternative, one can also boil sliced meat in marinade (or water) for 5 minutes.
Not surprisingly, the very guidelines that recommend these things often add that the result will differ from traditional beef jerky in both texture and taste.
Considering they’ve asked us to replace beef jerky with dried-out, overdone meat, I think it would differ, yes.
The USDA also recommends that all fish should be cooked before eating. Finfish should be cooked to an internal temperature of 145° F (63° C). Cook clams, mussels, and oysters until their shells open. The flesh of shrimp and lobster should be an opaque (milky white) color. Scallops should be opaque and firm.
Being Japanese, I could tell you what I think of the USDA guidelines for preparing fish.
But instead, let’s talk about Chopin. The 18th International Fryderyk Chopin Competition is held every five years, and it’s happening in Warsaw right now. It’s the Olympics of Chopin—there’s even a Chopin app you can download to watch the competition on your phone.
The Chopin Competition in the most prestigious piano competition in the world. To be a finalist is a lifetime achievement; to win can make one a national hero, if the people value such things, as happened to Seong-Jin Cho, who brought home South Korea’s first gold.
Like the Olympics, the Chopin offers high drama and intensity. There are controversial judges and heated disagreements and battles with nerves--but there are also moments of incredible beauty and artistry.
What fascinates me about the Chopin is that I’ve heard these pieces countless times—and yet the best players can still make me feel like a starstruck child, hearing something fresh and amazing.
And, although I will never match these players, I wish with all my heart to bring just a little of that fresh and amazing into my own play.
Of course, wishing isn’t enough. I need to practice. Right now, I’m revisiting Chopin’s Nocturne in E-flat major, Op. 9, No. 2. Nocturnes are far from Chopin's most technically challenging pieces—and this is one of the easier nocturnes. But this is Chopin. And when you play Chopin, you must feel the music.
When I first learn any piece, I use a metronome to understand the basic guidelines of the song. However, the product feels dry and overdone. It’s safe, but not quite Chopin.
For Chopin, you need dynamics, interpretations beyond what is prescribed upon the page. Take rubato. Instead of playing each measure in perfect time, one stretches the notes a little here, push them a little there. In this way, the piano evokes and expresses the emotion of both composer and player.
While that sounds simple—and the Chopin competitors make it look that way—proper rubato demands attention to the overall rhythm, the framework of the piece. You must still keep time. However, you do so with added sensitivity and discernment.
And so, practice, practice, and practice. For with practice comes greater understanding, and from that, a freedom beyond the guidelines, beyond rules.
With enough practice, perhaps one can even find Chopin.
When we set our minds to practice and training, we often get more freedom. Beyond what’s written on the sheets, we can create a tastier, more colorful and affirming life in so many ways.
Many of you have heard of blowfish or fugu. Fugu has been eaten and revered in Japan for centuries. In China, a Song Dynasty official said the taste was worth risking death. He wasn’t exaggerating. Fugu contains a neurotoxin; eating it can kill you. In Japan, people occasionally died from fugu poisoning—mostly from improper home preparation.
But rather than discourage the dish, Japan has implemented a fugu certification system. A proper fugu chef must train at least two years, then take an exam—that has a 65% failure rate.
And, thanks to learning and training, diners can not only taste, but experience the result of the chef’s work, the certifier’s work, the fishermen, and a people who value such things.
Life should be more than a struggle against making mistakes or being harmed. Yes, you can play a nocturne, but if your mind is dominated by avoiding mistakes—is that really the point?
With enough thought and training, we can also focus on other side of the equation: what pleasure can be gained.
Seeing how many people are making beef jerky in dehydrators or ovens at very low heat, or even hanging in open air… I wonder how many of them have their own traditions of knowing what meat is a good cut, what is clean and fresh, what is trustworthy?
And you know what? I’d love that wisdom. I’d love to learn.
After all, goal of education and training is not simply to avoid danger, but to experience a richer life. I’m never going to win the Chopin Competition, but I am going to do my best to work on my rubato.
Because it would be easy to avoid fugu—but, with sensitivity and discernment, we can also train in ways that mitigate and possible dangers, ways that allow us to enjoy life’s flavors to the fullest. To spend an evening with a nocturne.
To have your beef jerky, and even eat it too.
Cover photo: clu/Collection: DigitalVision Vectors/Getty Images
*Israel Museum, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
**By Wolfgang1018 - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9674527
***By Koncern Ilustrowany Kurier Codzienny - Archiwum Ilustracji - Narodowe Archiwum Cyfrowe, Sygnatura: 1-M-612-12, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=21243990