Biltong is the South African version of what Americans call jerky: Excepting biltong is savory, not sweet, and it’s much thicker — often moist under a spicy crust, sometimes with a thin rind of fat. The predominant flavours being salt, vinegar and coriander. Here’s how to make your own biltong wherever you are, especially if you’re a needy ex-pat unwilling to smuggle it in …
- Round roast whole or steaks cut for London Broil* (about 4lb or 2Kg)
- Vinegar (white wine)
- Condiments listed below, medium ground, in a coffee grinder …
1/2 cup whole coriander seeds** 2 tablespoons rock salt (or less if table salt) 1 teaspoon black peppercorns*
*Fresh meat, never frozen.
**Don’t use stale spices, get a really fresh supply. You want the strong smell of volatile oils when the seeds are crushed. You can gently toast the seeds in a pan over medium heat to bring out more aroma. You can also add a whole bunch of other spices, but why? Add them to the next batch if you don’t like the egte, basic biltong.
- Paper towels
- Cutting board and a sharp knife
- Vacuum seal, plastic zip lock bags
- Paper clips for meat hooks
- Spray bottle (for vinegar)
- Drying cabinet (well ventilated box with fan and incandescent light)
- A robust appetite for biltong!
NB: Clean your tools, hooks and work surfaces with a spritz of 3% Hydrogen Peroxide and leave to work for a half hour before wiping dry. I prefer this to bleach which leaves toxic residues and gives off poisonous chlorine gas in contact with acids (e.g. vinegar). Fresh Hydrogen Peroxide is caustic, so treat it with respect — but it biodegrades in light and open air within hours to oxygen and water.
- Wash your meat thoroughly in vinegar to disinfect the outer surfaces and pat dry with paper towels
- If not already sliced, cut meat into thick slices with the grain — opposite to how you’d normally cut a roast into steaks.
- The thicker the slice the longer it will take to dry and the softer the inside will be — the way I like it, with a dry spicy crust and moist centre.
- Drench spray each slice in vingar and pat dry again — I’m a little anal about ensuring bacteria are killed off.
- Divide up the ground spices and rub equal quantities into each streak.
- Gently spray with vinegar again and bag individual slices. Vacuum seal* (the aim is to keep the spice hard up against the meat, while curing, and not wash it all off in a bath of marinade).
- Leave to marinade for 24 hours in the fridge, turning every few hours to ensure all surfaces are equally treated.
*Vacuum sealing in individual bags is optional. You can also put all the slices into a single large bag and add more vinegar — turning the bag over every couple of hours during the curing process.
- Day One: Unbag, hook up, hang in the drier, no steaks touching each other or the drier walls. Keep the fan running throughout but only burn the lamps for the first day or two — the additional heat at the outset helps to dry the surface quicker.
- Days Two & Three: Drench spray each steak with vinegar (check for even drying, ensure that no mold* is growing).
- Days Four & Five: Check for even drying, squeeze the centre of each slice to estimate when they’re ready to take down. Different thicknesses will require more or less time in the drier. It’s a matter of preference after the third day.
*I’ve never had mold grow. I would likely throw the affected steak out. Other recipes I’ve read say to scrub it off with vinegar and continue drying.
- When done, remove from the drier, unhook, wrap in paper and store in the fridge for another 24 hours to condition (i.e. redistribute moisture evenly throughout).
- Do not store in plastic — unless you vacuum seal and/or freeze it. Biltong must breathe else it will definitely grow mold.
- Cut across the grain into smaller slices, thick or thin.
- Eat. Enjoy!
- Compliments to biltong: Port, cheese, fresh slices of apple and grapes or nuts and dried fruit: Cashews, apricots and figs especially.
- Thoroughly wash your equipment and repeat.