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Homemade beef biltong, based on the South African recipe
Homemade beef biltong stokkies (sticks)


Biltong is a kind of cured meat that originated in South Africa. Many different types of meat are used to produce it, ranging from beef through game meats to fillets of ostrich from commercial farms. It is typically made from raw fillets of meat cut into strips following the grain of the muscle, or flat pieces sliced across the grain. It is similar to beef jerky in that they are both spiced, dried meats, but differ in their typical ingredients, taste and production process. The word biltong is from the Dutch bil ("rump") and tong ("strip" or "tongue").

Origins

The Dutch settlers who arrived in South Africa in the 17th century brought recipes for dried meat from Europe. Preparation involved applying vinegar, then rubbing the strips of meat with a mix of herbs, salts and spices. The need for preservation in the new colony was pressing. Building up herds of livestock took a long time. There was native game about but it could take hunters days to track and kill a large animal such as an eland and they were then faced with the problem of preserving a large mass of meat in a short time in a hot climate during a period of history before iceboxes had been invented. Desiccation solved the problem. Biltong as we understand it today evolved from the dried meat carried by the wagon-travelling Voortrekkers, who needed stocks of durable food as they migrated from the Cape Colony (Cape Townmarker) north-eastward (away from British rule) into the interior of Southern Africa during the Great Trek. The raw meat was preserved from decay and insects within a day or two, and within a fortnight, would be black and rock-hard after it had fully cured.

Ingredients

The most common ingredients of biltong are:



Other ingredients often added include: balsamic vinegar or malt vinegar, dry ground chili peppers, garlic, bicarbonate of soda, Worcestershire sauce, onion powder, and saltpetre.

Meat

Prior to the introduction of refrigeration, the curing process was used by pioneers to preserve all kinds of meat in South Africa. However today biltong is most commonly made from beef, primarily due to its widespread availability and lower cost relative to venison. For finest cuts, sirloin is used or steaks cut from the hip such as topside or silverside. Other cuts can be used, but are not as high in quality.

Biltong can also be made from:

  • Venison such as Kudu and Springbok
  • Ostrich meat (bright red, often resembling venison)
  • Chicken, simply referred to as 'chicken biltong'
  • Fish in this case, known as Bokkoms (Shark biltong can also be found in South Africa.)


Bokkoms should not be confused with other cured fish such as Dried Angel Fish and Dried Snoek.

Preparation

Ideally the meat is marinated in a vinegar solution (cider vinegar is traditional but balsamic also works very well) for a few hours, and finally poured off before the meat is flavoured.

The spice mix traditionally consists equal amounts of: rock salt, whole coriander, black pepper and brown sugar. This mix is then ground roughly together, sprinkled liberally over the meat and rubbed in. Saltpetre is optional and can be added as an extra preservative (necessary only for wet biltong that is not going to be frozen).

The meat should then be left for a further few hours (or refrigerated overnight) and any excess liquid poured off before the meat is hung in the dryer.

Drying

Biltong quick drying using an electric oven


It is typically dried out in the cold air (rural settings), cardboard or wooden boxes (urban) or climate-controlled dry rooms (commercial). Depending on the spices used, a variety of flavours may be produced. Biltong can also be made in colder climates by using an electric lamp to dry the meat, but care must be taken to ventilate, as mold can begin to form on the meat.

A traditional slow dry will deliver a medium cure in about 4 days.

An electric fan-assisted oven set to 40-70 Celsius (100-160 Fahrenheit), with the door open a fraction to let out moist air, can dry the meat in approximately 4 hours. Although slow dried meat is considered by some to taste better, oven dried is ready to eat a day or two after preparation.

Comparison to Jerky

Biltong differs from Jerky in two distinct ways:

  • The meat used in biltong can be much thicker; typically biltong meat is cut in strips approx 1 inch wide - but can be thicker. Jerky is normally very thin meat.


  • The vinegar and salt in biltong, together with the drying process, cures the meat as well as adding texture and flavour. Jerky is traditionally dried without vinegar.


Retail

Biltong is a common product in Southern African butcheries and grocery stores, and can be bought in the form of wide strips (known as stokkies, meaning "little sticks"). It is also sold in plastic bags, sometimes shrink-wrapped, and may be either finely shredded or sliced as biltong chips.

There are also specialised retailers that sell biltong. These shops may sell biltong as "wet" (moist), "medium" or "dry". Additionally, some customers prefer it with a lot of fat within the muscle fibres, while others prefer it as lean as possible.

Eating

Biltong is renowned for being chewed as a snack, it can also be diced up into stews, added to muffins and pot bread. Several popular restaurants have also included biltong as an option for a pizza topping. Biltong-flavoured potato crisps have also been produced.

Biltong can be used as a teething aid for babies. Some retail stores offer a mild form of biltong especially for this purpose which does not contain the spices used for flavouring.

Biltong worldwide

Biltong's popularity has spread to many other countries, notably the United Kingdommarker, Australia and New Zealandmarker which have large South African populations, and also to the United Statesmarker, where it is FDA approved.

Biltong produced in South Africa may not be imported into Britainmarker, according to rules governing the importation of meat-based products from non-EU countries laid down by Customs & Excise department, thus it is made in the UK.

See also

Foods similar to biltong include:

Notes and references


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