Dehydrating Basics

Helpful Hints
  • Cut all the food into really small pieces. Much smaller than you would normally cook with. It dehydrates faster and rehydrates better.
  • We've found that for meats, using ground meats works the best because it's essentially cut into tiny pieces. 
  • We've also found that scrambled eggs don't work that great to rehydrate. They turn out pretty rubbery unless you cook them for a loooong time during the rehydrating process. If you don't mind that, they do still taste great. 
  • Try not to use a ton of fat. I know, I know...this is Paleo, but fat makes it hard to dehydrate fully and also gives it more of a chance of spoiling. So when using ground meats, get the leaner packages. 
  • Sometimes you might want to use thickeners to make the meal a little less watery, but a lot of thickeners are not considered "paleo," so pick whichever one you're most comfortable with, or cook something that doesn't need a thickener. For example, we avoid gluten-containing thickeners, but we do use rice flour sometimes, even though we don't normally eat rice. Amaranth is another one we've used and liked. Other thickeners could be arrowroot powder, coconut flour, or nut flours. We haven't experimented with these last three, so I can't vouch for them. However a lot of things we've dehydrated, although watery, tend to settle OK on the dehydrator trays lined with parchment.
  • Make a lot at one time. It's kind of time-intensive to cut everything really small, cook an entire meal that you're not even going to eat that day, spread it on the trays, clean it all up, etc., etc. So it pays to make a lot.
  • That said, if you're experimenting with a new recipe, you might actually want to do a small test batch first so you don't make a huge batch of something that turns out to be essentially inedible. 
  • Sometimes it's hard to tell how much food you really have once it's dehydrated, so if you can, before you put it in the dehydrator, look at how much you have and try to imagine how many meals it would make for you (thinking with a trail-hungry stomach), then  just divide the meal into that many servings. Usually one fully-packed sandwich-size Ziploc is a good meal for the two of us. 
  • As far as packaging goes, we use pint-size Ziploc freezer bags (we pack 2 meals into one bag, since we're usually eating together on the trail). It's best to use the freezer-quality Ziplocs because the dehydrated "flakes"(or shards, more like it) are pretty sharp, and can puncture the thinner bags. We label them with the name of the meal, the date it was made, and how many servings it has. This is best done on a piece of duct tape that you put on the bag, since even Sharpie wears off the plastic bags sometimes, but not as easily off duct tape. Or buy the bags with the white label-windows on them.
  • You can make your favorite paleo recipes into backpacking recipes! Once you know the basic principles (use ground meats, cut everything up really small, don't make anything too soupy, and remember, it's not going to be exactly the same once you boil it in water on the trail) you can adapt a fair number of recipes so you can eat luxuriously on the trail!
  • If you ever have vegetables that you can't use up before they go bad, cut them up raw and dehydrate them on the vegetable setting. Later you can add them to meals, and even though they aren't cooked with the meal originally, they still blend it to it just fine. 
Doing the Dehydrating
  • Get some parchment paper and cut it so that it leaves about 2-3 inches of the tray exposed around the edges (to help with airflow).
  • Put parchment paper on the trays, spread the food super thin (like 1/8-inch thick) on the paper, then pop 'em in the dehydrator.
  • If you have time, come back every couple hours to "stir" the meal (break up chunks and turn stuff over) so it dehydrates faster. Not a necessary step, just helpful. 
  • The time it takes to dehydrate entirely depends on your dehydrator. We used my grandma's from the 60's when we were first starting, and it would sometimes take up to 12 hours to dry fully. You want the food to be all the way dried through so it won't spoil.
  • When you've determined that it is dry enough (we don't have a scientific method for this), take the trays out, and crumble all the food into your Ziplocs. The more you crumble them, the smaller it will pack, but this can get a little painful on your hands.
  • A note about fatty meals (which is pretty much all of the meals posted here): Sometimes they don't ever seem to get fully dry. That's the nature of fat, and that's why we like to keep ours in the freezer. However, this isn't necessary, it just makes me feel better. They'll still keep at room temperature, but maybe not for as long as the fat-free dehydrated lentil soup mix from the grocery store.
  • You can store your meals in a couple different ways. You can put the individual Ziplocs in a cool, dark, dry place (more short-term storage). Or you can store them in the refrigerator (where they can keep up to 2 years) or in the freezer (keep up to 3 years). 
  • I have gotten in the habit of saving the silica packets from my pill bottles and putting one or two into the Ziplocs with the food to keep moisture down. It makes a huge difference, especially if you freeze your meals, because the bags sometimes get condensation on the outside when you take them out of the freezer. 
  • When you're done, don't discard the parchment. You can reuse it for your next couple batches! We just brush the crumbs off and store them with the trays, using them until they get holes!

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