Unakka Irachi or Dried Beef is a specialty from Kerala. Before the era of refrigeration began, Meat was preserved by salting and drying it thoroughly. This dried meat could be stored for months. In the hot summer months, meat would be sun-dried outdoors. During rainy months, Meat would be smoked and dried over the stove in the kitchen. The whole process would take several days.
Gone are those good old days when “Unakka Irachi” would be packed with love while you went away to college or work to some unknown city. The very smell of Dried Beef would make your mouth water. A little bit of Unakka Erachi was enough to have a scrumptious meal with rice. When I went home for vacation, my Mom asked me what I needed and without thinking twice, I replied that I craved Unakka Erachi. A mother’s love knows no bounds. She did all the work and the day I returned from vacation, I had home made “Dried Beef” sealed and wrapped in my bag. What more could I have asked for?
Now that I have pounded and crushed Dried Beef stored away in my fridge, I use it occasionally for making a quick side dish like Unakka Irachi Ularthiyathu (Stir Fry). When there is Unakka Irachi for lunch, then you wouldn’t care for any other side dish with rice! The unique smoky flavor of dried meat appeals to many but I prefer the sun-dried version.
Yields: 1.5 kg of dried meat approximately
For drying the Beef
- Beef – 5 kg
- Salt – as needed
- Turmeric Powder – 1.5 tsp
- Black Pepper Powder – 2 tbsp
- Red Chilly Powder – 3 tbsp (Alter according to your spice tolerance)
For frying the Sun-dried Beef
- Oil – 3 to 4 tbsp or as needed
- Curry Leaves – 4 to 5 sprigs
- Dried Red Chillies – 8 to 10
For making a stir fry with Dry Beef (Unakka Irachi Ularthiyathu)
- Coconut Oil – 1 tbsp
- Fried & Crushed Sun-dried Beef – 1.5 cups
- Shallots – 4 or 5
- Green Chillies – 2 (Alter according to your spice tolerance)
- Garlic – 2 cloves
- Black Pepper Powder – 1/4 tsp
- Curry Leaves – a sprig
How to Make Sun-dried Beef (Unakka Irachi)
- Trim all visible fat from the beef and cut it into thin strips of any size, say like 3″ x 3″. Make slits on the surface of the meat using your knife.
- Wash and drain the beef thoroughly. Marinate it with lots of salt, turmeric, red chilly and black pepper powders. Keep it aside for two hours.
- On warm sunny days, spread the meat on a single layer on a plastic sheet/tray and allow it to sun dry.
- Be sure to turn the meat every few hours so that both sides dry evenly. The beef should lose all its water content.
- It takes about 3-4 days to dry the beef completely. This can vary depending on where you live. Now the sun-dried beef can be safely stored at this stage or, for convenience, you can fry the meat and crush it as mentioned below, before storing it.
Frying the Sun-dried Beef (Unakka Irachi Varuthathu)
- Once the beef has sun-dried, thoroughly pound the meat strips with a pestle. Yes, you need muscles to do this. This will help tenderize the hard meat.
- Heat required oil in a wide frying pan and arrange the beef strips in a single layer. Shallow fry the meat until browned and remove from oil. You can do this in several batches without overcrowding the pan.
- To the same oil used for frying meat, throw in the curry leaves and dried red chillies. Saute for a minute or two and remove from heat. Keep it aside.
- Once the meat has cooled, pulse everything in a mixie or food processor. Be careful not to powder the meat. Add the fried curry leaves and dried red chillies to the crushed meat. Traditionally, the meat would be crushed with a pestle and then shredded. The fried and crushed meat is now ready. This is how it is usually prepared when you want to take it to your hostel or any other place. This is how my mom packed it for me.
- You can store this Crushed Dried Beef Fry in an airtight container. For a longer shelf life, you can refrigerate it. I refrigerated the dried beef which mom prepared for me.
- When you are in need of a quick side dish, all you need to do is heat the fried and crushed unakka irachi. It tastes yummy but if you want to enhance it, see the steps below for making Unakka Irachi Ularthiyathu.
How to make Unakka Irachi Ularthiyathu (Stir Fry with Sun-dried Beef)
- For making a stir fry (ularthu) with Unakka Irachi, crush shallots, green chillies and garlic to form a coarse paste.
- Heat 1 tbsp coconut oil in a frying pan and add the ground paste. Throw in the curry leaves. Saute for a few minutes so that the raw smell of the paste disappears.
- Add 1 cup of fried and crushed beef to the pan. Sprinkle a little black pepper powder. Saute for a few minutes and remove from heat. Serve with rice.