Monday, December 21, 2009

Making a South African Snack - Biltong

Biltong - a Spiced air dried meat snack, similar to American Jerky, Origins are from the South African settlers who in 1800's hunted as they moved into the interior, and had to store their extra provisions, they salted and spiced the meat and hung it out to dry.

Some of my friends asked me how I make my Biltong.

So here goes, it takes about 5-9 days, with three steps, preparation , soaking overnight and then drying

We need the meat, 5 -100lbs
about 1 1/2 cups of vinegar in small flat container,
coarse salt , I use Kosher Coarse Salt
spices , peppercorns and whole coriander
and a large storage container before we start. I use an 8 gallon Rubbermaid

I use Beef or Venison, best cuts are Round of Beef, or Eye of Round. Obviously the Ham is best from Venison , but I will cut up a shoulder too.

Prepare the spicing - I use coarse salt, coriander whole seed, whole peppercorns and vinegar. My best mix is 1/5 Peppercorns, 4/5 coriander, I then grind these in a spice grinder (or clean coffee grinder). I spice pretty heavily , so for about 20lbs of meat I use about 1 cup of whole spices before grinding. You want them fine ground with a few coriander hulls still whole (see pic). The reason why I use whole is that they stay 500% more fresh if kept whole and in the freezer.
If it is your preference , you can add other spices or herbs or chili peppers. Garlic and Chili are regular additives in commercial Biltong. Some guys add in Worcester sauce into their dip, I dont like it. Once ready , put aside and start cutting up the meat.

I cut both along the grain and across depending on the muscle being cut, about 3/4 to 1" thick, long thick strips make the best Biltong and all pieces being similar thickness is also important. Biltong will dry to be at least 50% less in weight, so keep this in mind when choosing how much to make at one time. I typically buy two whole Round of Beef from Cosco or Sams Club - expect to pay $2.20 or so per lb. On specials I can get it below $2/lb

Once all the meat is cut up, trim off yellow and dry fat (chalky in texture), as well as sinew and stringy pieces. Fat does not shrink like the meat does. The white outside skin fat is acceptable on Eye of Round. I also cut very large pieces into narrower strips of about 2"- 2.5" wide.
You want the best quality meat to make good Biltong, cheap cuts of meat make poor Biltong. Brisket does NOT work for example - too much fat.

The method from here is important, put the vinegar into a flat container, it should be big enough to be able to dunk the largest piece of meat. Coat the bottom of your storage container with salt, and then spices - see pics
Now dip each piece of meat into vinegar, then lay it flat on the spice salt mix, cover the whole container base with meat side by side without overlapping. Then sprinkle salt over the meat, you want a piece of course salt about every 3/16 to1/8" apart. You get a feel for this . You can over salt - it is a fine line - rather be light first time. After salt then cover it all with spice, here I am heavy with spices and make sure you can see no meat when done.
Then next layer of meat and do it all over again.

Meat is left soaking in the spice and brine solution, for just 24 hours, then it is time to hang it for drying. I made a drying box out of a large cardboard moving box, some thick wire as horizontal hangers and a computer (muffin) fan. I punched 8 holes about 1" at top of the sides of the box with it closed off. Bottom is left open and taped up , fan is mounted in one side of the box with it blowing air into the box. Meat is hung on long wire rods , each piece is threaded onto "S" wire hooks made from galvanized wire which I boil first , each piece of Biltong must be spaced so that they are not touching each other, and you can do more than one level , no issue with upper pieces dripping on lower pieces as they dry within a day . The box is placed onto multi layered newspaper to soak up the first few hours of brine drippings.

In the old days in South Africa I just hung the meat on racks in the garage in winter (no flys or bugs in winter), and a friend has made a wooden box with screens on it and added a 60 watt bulb for his biltong dryer, I am sure a dehydrator would also work, but the meat must hang without touching anything. meat can be threaded with twine to hang it or reuse galv "S" hooks. I have also hung mine in a box over an aircon floor vent in desperation when I first came to the usa and needed to make some in summer, before I came up with the computer fan idea.

Thin pieces in a dry winter environment can be ready for snacking within 3-5 days. I like mine still wet in the center, and it is usually ready by day 7 or 8. Two weeks for really dry and no longer. Vinegar is critical in summer as it helps start the drying process by creating the outside skin and you must check it carefully in summer to make sure enough dry air is circulating or the meat can go off BUT in winter spring and fall it is never an issue.The few times I have made Biltong in summer I cut much thinner pieces to help it dry quicker.

Here is the old drying cupboard,

but I have a new drying cupboard, powered by two computer fans.

Here is the final product,


Ny Biltong said...

biltong is a delectable cured meat that originated in South Africa. There are various kinds of meats to produce biltong like those meats coming from an ostrich, crocodile, fish, dog, cow or a snake. They are made from raw fillets of meats that are being cut into strips by following the grain of the muscle. It is always compared to a beef jerky, but it is far different. Biltong is a salty and chewy raw meat that has been slowly cured to perfection so that the natural enzymes will be intact to allow your body to digest it without any difficulty. Our body will benefit from eating biltong because it is rich with protein, which is one nutrient that is required for our diet. Protein is needed by our body to build and repair our body tissues. It can also help us to lose weight.

Hinrich said...

My best mix is 1/5 Peppercorns, 4/5 coriander, I then grind these in a spice grinder (or clean coffee grinder). I spice pretty heavily , so for about ...