Biltong – Making A National Icon

Talk about food from South Africa and you have to mention Biltong, possibly one of the most South African foods out there. Many liken it to American jerky, but for those who’ve tried both there is no similarity. Biltong was used by the Voortrekkers as a way of preserving meat over long periods of time by using vinegar, salt and spices to help the meat dry out and not rot. The result is a deliciously spiced dry meat that keeps well and can be eaten as a snack or combined in other dishes, such as feta and biltong pizza. So, after six month away from home, living in Japan, we decided to give it a bash and make our own biltong.

Wet Biltong – Ready for hanging

Finding the right ingredients was not all that difficult. Everything except for the meat we bought at Seiyu, the supermarket close to my main school and the most convenient place for me to shop. I went for a very basic recipe:

  • Coarse salt (but any salt will do in a pinch, pardon the pun).
  • Coriander (you should use whole kernels, but I used powdered coriander.)
  • Black Pepper
  • Apple Vinegar
The Prize – in the early stages. The meat looses a good deal of size as it dries.

    The basic idea is simple. Vinegar then spice, then hang to dry in a cool, dry place. To achieve this in Japan, a rather damp country, we waited until winter then hung the meat in a cardboard box with a heater on and a fan. The heater didn’t stay on for long, I just wanted to make sure the meat didn’t freeze. I hung the meat on Friday night and by Sunday it was ready. I took it down on the Monday after, and it didn’t last very long after that.

    The Setup – the fan blows heat through the box.

    The secret weapon – this box draws moisture from the room, making it easier to keep things South African dry.


    Update – 31 March 2012

    Attempt number two under way, so I thought I’d share some extra findings.
    For measurements I found this site, which I used last time.
    The recipe I followed is here, with some modifications as noted before.

    My Recipe for round two is going to be a little different. I’m working with 352g of beef:
    soy sauce 2 teaspoon
    salt 1 teaspoon (just to help with the drying)
    pepper 1/4 teaspoon
    coriander 1 teaspoon

    Despite the rain it’s feeling like a braai day.