Thursday 17 January 2013

Homemade Biltong

For ages now, Paul has been wanting us to experiment with making biltong, the spiced, dried meat that he grew up snacking on. His uncles used to shoot a lot of game and he grew up watching them make biltong and sausages, so he had very definite ideas about the process but wanted me to document what we did for posterity.

I think this might be an alienating post. My vegetarian readers are already running away feeling queasy and most of the omnivores are dubious but this is really pretty easy and quite delicious (if a bit of an acquired taste).
Rolled Dexter silverside

The first thing, of course, was the selection of the meat. You can make biltong out of all sorts of things - I've had kudu and ostrich biltong in South Africa - but we went with beef. Because you need quite a lot, and it is going to be heavily spiced and dried out, this really isn't the time for the finest fillet. At the same time, there is no point in putting money and effort into poor quality ingredients, so we bought a 3kg rolled silverside of Dexter beef. It's quite lean (the external fat in the picture was tied on to keep it moist through roasting; we've got it tucked away in hope that a venison haunch will come through the kitchen at some point) and has nice long fibres that are just the ticket for biltong.

Paul cut the meat into long strips, slicing with the grain. The slices were about 3cm thick and 8-10cm wide.
In the dry cure

I packed the slices into a plastic box, sprinkling well with a dry cure between each layer, then just sprinkling a tiny bit of malt vinegar along each piece. Lid on, and into the fridge over night.
Liquid drawn off by the cure over night.

The following day, the meat had thrown off a lot of liquid and was darker in colour and firmer in texture. Just what we were looking for.

The next step is to rinse off the excess salt, so I dipped each slice in malt vinegar, then patted it dry and rolled it in coriander and pepper. I also tried a couple of strips with hot pimenton and garlic mixed in with the coriander and pepper.
We will thoroughly decontaminate the wardrobe before our next guests arrive

In order to hang and dry the meat, Paul ran loops of cotton string through it (putting my trussing needle to use for the first time in a couple of years) and tied them to some old coat hangers.  The coat hangers went into the spare room wardrobe (door open and lots of newspaper laid down). They were spaced well apart to allow air to circulate around them (important to avoid mould and allow even drying) and we put the dehumidifier in there on a low setting.

And closed the bedroom door to prevent Urchin from taking an interest.

A piece of the regular and a piece of the paprika, after a week of drying
After 3 days it was ready to eat, although still a bit moister in the middle than I prefer. After 7 days it was perfect. The paprika version was a mixed success - Paul felt that the paprika flavour was a bit overwhelming and that the garlic didn't come through enough. Next time I will add some garlic to the original cure and just stick with the rest as we did it this time.

Beef Biltong

3kg beef silverside
200g coarse salt
100g brown sugar
10g coriander seed, toasted and roughly crushed
10g black pepper, roughly crushed
1 tsp saltpetre (optional)
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
malt vinegar
Coriander & pepper, extra

Trim the meat of excess fat and sinew, then cut into strips lengthwise.

Mix the salt, sugar, coriander, pepper, saltpetre and bicarb in a bowl.

Sprinkle a fine layer of the spice mixture in the base of a plastic box, then add a layer of beef strips. Sprinkle with another layer of spices, then sparingly sprinkle with a few drops of malt vinegar. Repeat until all the meat has been packed in the box, finishing with a layer of spices and sprinkle of vinegar. We had some of the cure leftover, but depending on how finely you cut the meat and how generous you are with the cure, you might use it all.

Cover and refrigerate over night.

The following day dip each piece of meat in vinegar, pat dry with kitchen paper and roll in more crushed pepper and coriander. I ran out of whole coriander seed, so I made it go a bit further using ground coriander, but the crushed coriander seed crust on the finished biltong is pretty important for both flavour and appearance.

Either cut a slit at one end of each slice and feed a piece of string through it, or use a trussing needle. We used plain cotton string, soaked in Milton's solution for 15 minutes. Tie the strings onto coat hangers and hang up in an airy place* and leave to dry for 3-7 days, depending on how dry you like it.

Cut into thin slivers across the grain to serve. It takes a lot of chewing, but the flavour is definitely worthwhile.

* if you have a housemate who doesn't approve of meat hanging in the wardrobe, you can build a biltong box - there are loads of sites on the internet with instructions. The main thing is that they have a low-wattage lightbulb in them, not for heat but to create convection currents to mimic free-flowing air.


Kavey said...

Love that you did this at home. I looked at home curing meat, but was put off by having to find somewhere to hang it to dry... all our wardrobes are stuffed full!

Bettina Douglas said...

I was about to ask: why would you bother? - just buy it. Then I remembered this is the child who roped me into trying to make marron glaces...

What next?

Joanne said...

Wow I'm so impressed that you made this! Very cool!

Alicia Foodycat said...

Kavey - do you have a pasta drying rack? You'd need to make the strips shorter.

Mother - partly because of the challenge, partly because it costs about £40/kg and this made 2kg for about £25.

Joanne - thanks!

leaf (the indolent cook) said...

Oh, awesome! I'd love to try making biltong, but don't really have anywhere/anything appropriate for hanging and drying...

underthebluegumtree said...

Love, love, LOVE biltong. But the moister the better for me. And it has to have fat. They always laugh at me asking for "wet" biltong with the fat left on in my English accent here. It's obviously not the done thing unless you are a strapping Afrikaans man!

I have tried making my own with mixed success and have a biltong box. When I used vinegar, I found the flavour permeated the meat too much. I'll have to give your recipe a go.

Angie's Recipes said...

Can't imagine myself doing this at home...I meant it does require a lot of patience and skills.

Unknown said...

Wow, this looks just amazing and what a wonderful tutorial you have made! This would be a delightful treat, even better than dessert!

Joanna @ Zeb Bakes said...

I am full of admiration for you doing this, I have to confess I haven't ever eaten biltong but always wondered what it is like. Have you come across Nicola who tweets as souschef and has a website selling all sorts of desirable equipment and ingredients, she is very into curing meats at home too. It looks wonderful and my mouth is watering (fast day here). I once air dried a duck between two kitchen chairs, but that was before I had dogs of course xx Jo

Joanna @ Zeb Bakes said...

Oh that is annoying, I wrote the whole comment, signed in, and now it has vanished. OK here goes again :)

That looks wonderful, I am drooling and I would love to have a go at making this and I am not put off at all, but I am not a vegetarian. This way you can source your meat and know what is going into your biltong. I once air dried a duck to make Peking duck hung between two kitchen chairs with a fan blower on it, (pre dog days though). It was fun, tasted delicious and all power to you for doing it. x Jo


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