Preservation Friday: Biltong

Preserving meat by drying is a well known technique for preservation. I have a few friends from South Africa, and they all love to chew on biltong. The dried meat delicacy is quite expensive to buy in the UK because it is regarded as a specialist product, and requires special equipment to prepare in our cooler, more humid climate. I took care of the special equipment problem with a simple water bottle biltong maker, and that just leaves the problem of a good biltong spice recipe. This basic spice mix should be sufficient to coat about a kilo of meat.

Ingredients:

  • 3½ tbsp of salt
  • 2½ tsp of brown sugar
  • ½ tsp of bicarbonate of soda
  • ½ tsp of black pepper
  • 2½ tsp of corriander seeds
  • ¼ tsp of saltpeter

Instructions:

  1. Trim the fat from your meat.  I tend to use a thick slice of hip bone steak, since the native beasts of South Africa do not flourish in my climate.
  2. Tenderise the meat by soaking it in vinegar for a couple of hours. Some recipes prescribe a light vinegar, such cider or wine vinegar. I find that balsamic vinegar tastes better.
  3. Toast the corriander and the black pepper in a dry pan until it takes on a light brown colour, then transfer into a pestle and mortar.
  4. Add the remaining ingredients to the mortar, and grind them into a powder.
  5. Remove the meat from the vinegar, and coat the meat thoroughly in the mixed spices.
  6. Leave the meat in the refrigerator to absorb the spice mixture for approximately 24 hours. This time can be varied depending on taste.
  7. Rinse the meat with a 1:1 mixture of vinegar and water. This prevents the meat from becoming over-seasoned.
  8. Hang the meat in a drier, and leave it to dry in a warm, dry place for approximately four days. Drying time will vary depending on the temperature, size of meat, and the relative humidity. The finished biltong will be about 50% of it’s original size when it is ready.

This is the sort of recipe that you can vary almost infinitely. I like to add a few chilli seeds to pep up the heat, but the choice is ultimately yours to make. Experiment as much as you need to get the flavour you want.

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