As a South African, there is one thing I love: BILTONG! Living overseas has made me realise how much I miss it. There is biltong available in Ireland, but it’s mostly all around €90 per Kg so wasn’t it worth buying. So while I was in Cape Town, I packed a biltong box in my suitcase, determined to figure out how this meat preserving magic happens.
If you are reading this and have no idea what biltong is, it’s dried and cured meat originating from Southern Africa and has a little history to go along with it. Although the Dutch in the Cape named it Biltong (bil – rump in Dutch; tong – tongue / strip in Dutch) it’s actually been around for a lot longer that that!
The Khoikhoi would preserve the meat by cutting it into broad strips and curing it with salt before hanging it up to dry. A similar practice of meat preservation was followed by the Europeans who settled in South Africa in the 17th century, who added vinegar to the curing process. It was the Dutch who added cloves, black pepper and coriander to the meat curing process. Biltong was particularly used by the Cape – Dutch Voortrekkers in the Great Trek where they were on the move for great lengths of time moving northwards in the country to escape the British rule.
With that bit of history out of the way, making biltong is easier than you think and there are many recipes out there but here’s one of the most common ones that worked for me:
- 2 Kg silverside or topside beef
- 500g Fine salt
- 60ml Worcester Sauce
- Half a bottle of coriander seeds grinded/ chopped (approximately 2 table spoons)
- 1/4 Bottle of black pepper grinded/ chopped (approximately 1 table spoon)
- 150ml Red wine vinegar
- 150g Brown sugar
- 1 Tea spoon Bicarb of soda
- Cut your meat into thick slices – I make sure I have 9 for my 9 meat hooks
- In a mixing bowl mix the salt, bicarb and brown sugar together
- Take one piece of meat at a time and dip it in the mixing bowl, making sure that all parts of the piece of meat is covered
- Line the salted/ sugared meat up in a casserole dish
- Keep them there for between 3 to 4 hours
- When time is up, take one piece of meat at a time to rinse properly with water until all the salt is gone
- Grab a mixing bowl and make your marinade: add the vinegar and Worcester sauce and dip each piece of meat in it
- Put each marinaded piece in a casserole dish and sprinkle with the coriander and black pepper
- If you have left over marinade toss it over your meat
- Leave your meat alone for another hour
- Once the hour’s up, put your meat on the meat hangers and put in your biltong box – hang them up and put on the light and fan.
The biltong takes about 3 days to dry to a medium rare. Leave them for 5 – 6 days if you like the meat dry!