Preserving meat is a tradition that has been around for centuries, what do you do when you kill a large animal? You can’t eat it all at once, smoking and salting or even air-drying are all possibilities. Biltong (South African) or Jerky (yank) are two forms of dried meat sold commercially. The difference is in the cure that is applied at the start, biltong uses vinegar and jerky uses salt.
I first tried Biltong on my first trip to South Africa and instantly fell in love, beef, ostrich, kudu they have them all. It is the best snack in the world, savoury, chewy and spicy-perfect! Unfortunately, we have the Dutch to thank for Biltong. The early pioneers or Voortrekkers who first explored the Cape used to make biltong for their long journeys in the 1830’s & 1840’s and it is now firmly engrained into South African Culture.
British Biltong? Is there now a manufacturer of this fine source of mastication-y madness? No. There is you and me. Biltong is perhaps the easiest thing to make (well it was invented by the Afrikaans) and simple to do at home. All you need is a box with a few small holes in, a rack to hang your desired meat off and a 60w Light bulb. Being a bit of a culinary player I have a very sophisticated version. One day I happened to be at my brother’s workplace and they were going to throw out what looked like a big wooden suitcase. It was actually a biltong machine, so I had it. I did have to gaffer tape it to my long board and take it home on the bus suffering the curious stares of the general public, but my god was it worth it!
As you can see from the pictures, its quite large and much to my girlfriends protesting, it IS staying in the flat. The preparation of the meat is really quite straightforward. Bil (means rump) and tong (meaning Strip or tongue) basically suggests using a cut of meat from the arse of your selected animal. And this is exactly what you should do. For my first venture into biltong making I bought a rump steak, if you are planning to make a large batch I would suggest buying a silverside or topside joint and use that.
Biltong a la Boutflower road.
- · First cut your meat with the grain into 1cm thick strips, bear in mind that the meat will shrink by about 50%.
- · Stick the strips in a bowl and pour a good slosh of Cider vinegar over the meat. Put in the fridge for a few hours.
- · Make your mix to coat the meat, the traditional Biltong mix consists of crushed coriander seeds, brown sugar, ground black pepper and salt. Put all ingredients in a pestle & mortar and give it a good pounding.
- · Take the meat out of the vinegar and pat dry, chuck over the spices and make sure they the strips are all well coated. Put the meat in a clean container and refrigerate overnight or for 24 hours.
- · Remove the meat and squeeze each piece dry in-between a paper towel, this will speed up the drying process.
- · You are now ready to hang up your biltong in your box, hang the meat with either paper clips or safety pins. Switch on the light and leave well alone for 2-3 days. Actually, check it because mine only took 24 hours!
So there you have it bru, biltong. This is not by any means a recipe that has to be stuck to; you can experiment with different flavours, spices and vinegars. Just make sure that the pepper, sugar and salt are always there. I used a little smoked paprika and smoked sea salt with my batch to give it a bit of a smoky flavour, which didn’t quite work as well as I had hoped, but it was present.
The meat can be changed; I think lamb will be my next batch, with red wine vinegar, rosemary and mint. You can also do it with chicken, venison, most game and even fish (might smell a bit!). It doesn’t matter if the cut your using isn’t too lean as the fat and sinews add to the chewiness- it all depends on what you palate appreciates most.
What finer snack to enjoy with a few good friends and some nice cold beers on a warm summers evening?Well, thank you Saffers with all your “jah cousin, how is it bru?” and manly brutishness, for all that testosterone, biltong is a little dainty to be honest…woofters! But very tasty all the same so once again, cheers. I think part of the reason it hasn’t caught on in Britain is the price of the rubbish soft commercial rubbish you get in pubs & bars. The first pub I go into that sells home made biltong at the bar can have my biltong machine. Although, they probably won’t need it!