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Well, it's not cooked, exactly

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  • Well, it's not cooked, exactly

    ..and it took more than a night, but I've been trying my hand at making biltong, the South African snack thingy.
    On our first ever overseas holiday in New Zealand last year, we went past a shop that was flying the electric y-fronts (South African flag) out the front.In we went for a look around, and I ended up buying some biltong that had been tossed in a little garlic and chilli infused oil. The stuff is like meth. One try and I was hooked.

    Biltong is meat that's been lightly cured, then dried. I know quite a few Seth Efrikens, and not one of them does not have a biltong box.

    I started by making the box. I bought a 52L plastic storage box with a tight-fitting lid, drilled a heap of 1/8" holes down the bottom at one end to let air in, mounted a 5 inch computer fan to the lid at the other end to pull air out and drilled some holes to pass some dowels through to hang the meat on.

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    Then I bought about 1.25 kg of blade roast from the supermarket where my wife works. Beef is getting expensive lately, and whole pieces are not often offered for sale locally, I couldn't even find any rump or topside. Despite being an "economical cut" it wasn't all that cheap, but at least I got to wave the employee discount card.

    I sliced approximately 1 inch thick pieces with the grain, and left the fat on. Got six pieces.
    To get started, I decided to use a really simple recipe that I got from a website that sells biltong boxes. I figured they wouldn't hand out a dud recipe that might make their boxes look useless.
    I sprinkled the pieces liberally with rock salt on both sides and left them laying in a dish for two hours at room temp (18 degrees C).

    While they were having a light cure, I toasted about 50g coriander seeds in a hot dry skillet, then blitzed them in the wife's coffee grinder. Aim was to just crack them, not grind them to powder.
    Did the same with an equal amount of whole black pepper, then mixed the two together. My reading suggests that this mixture is the traditional South African flavour.

    When the two hour cure was up, I scraped all the salt off the meat and brushed the pieces with vinegar, just enough to wet them all over, then shook off any excess.
    After that I coated them liberally in the coriander/ black pepper mix and hung them in the biltong box, put the lid on and fired up the fan to keep drawing the cool dry air through the box to dry them.
    2 days later they've lost just over 25% by weight, and are just about at the same moisture level as the commercial product I enjoyed in NZ. Target is 25 -40%weight loss depending how dry you like your biltong.
    I really reckoned I got it right first time. I much prefer it to jerky.
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    Every culture has its own way of preserving meat before the advent of refrigeration. I gotta say, so far I like the South African product the best - very simple to make, extremely tasty.
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  • #2
    Interesting, not different, as you say, from other dry meat processes. I was in Aussie land few weeks ago and had a little sticker price shock when we went to the grocery stores.
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    • #3
      Originally posted by UtahBeehiver View Post
      I was in Aussie land few weeks ago and had a little sticker price shock when we went to the grocery stores.
      Haha, I live here and I get sticker price shock when I go into the store, too.

      If you stick with Woolworths and Coles, they seem to have this price equalisation policy whereby it doesn't matter where the store is the price is pretty much the same. This tends to alleviate the tcost of transport somewhat. If the town doesn't have one of the two majors, expect to pay heaps.


      • #4
        So I take a little lunch box over to the electrical engineers' offices to see my ol' mate Maarten. He spots the box of biltong, winds up the meeting in his office, stands in the doorway and yells for Johan.
        After introductions to the new guy, Johan, and explanations of purpose of urgent meeting, Maarty and Johan start their appraisal, and about then I realise this dried meat lark is a VERY big deal to a South African.
        So texture and dryness is inspected, spice layer discussed, first bite taken.
        Maarty: "That's really good mate, a bit wetter than I like it but it's definitely the real thing. Can I have another piece?"
        Johan: "That's perfect.That's exactly how wet I like it. How am I going to tell my mate I know an Aussie who makes better biltong than he does? May I have another piece?"

        It becomes clear to me this ain't just about dried meat, this stuff has real cultural significance, and one doesn't greedily scoff the host's biltong, one savours it and waits to be invited to take more.

        Discussions of recipes follow, grinding of coriander complimented, use of traditional recipe rather than commercial spice mix applauded, design of biltong boxes discussed, photographs promised.

        A passing Italian is invited to partake but declines, saying it looks like fish bait. South Africans good-naturedly demure, saying "This isn't your bloody pasta, mate, this is the real deal."
        I go away with an empty lunch box, feeling very pleased with myself, and a teensy bit wiser about what makes South Africans tick.