Whenever I mention South African food to non-South Africans someone will always mention biltong, usually describing it as this weird kind of raw dried meat that someone once made them try, but sometimes as this amazingly moreish snack.
As for South Africans... I don't think I know anyone who doesn't love biltong. It is a super popular snack in South Africa - we have speciality shops that just make and sell biltong. Some people like it dry, some like it wet, some hot, spicy, mild, plain, on top of pap, in a sandwich, with a beer etc. You can also buy ostrich or game/ venison biltong! If you visit a South African shop in the UK, you will see sticks of it hanging up drying behind the counter, or mounds of shaved biltong in buckets ready to buy and eat.
The last time we went to South Africa we visited my mom's Uncle (Uncle Duppie) in Witbank. Before we left he showed us his garage where he had a big set-up with fans and lamps and loads of biltong hanging to dry. He let us choose a stick, cut it up for us and we chomped it all out of the paper bag in the hot car on the drive to Pilanesburg Game Reserve.
For a long time I have wanted to try and make it myself. It is quite pricey to buy and we don't have a South African shop near where we live, so can only really buy it when we're in London. So last year I finally bought Chris a Biltong King. Chris is one of the Englishman who can't get enough of the stuff, so it was one of those gifts that I knew he'd love and I would secretly benefit! You just need somewhere cool, dry and well ventilated to be able to dry biltong. One of my friends in Leicester dries his hanging from a hanger on a door in his study! After a bad experience with flies whilst trying to draw fish for an art course (long story!) and living in a one bedroom flat, a biltong box was the next best thing! It has a fan and a lamp so provides the perfect drying environment, allowing you to dry the meat in 3-4 days rather than 2-3 weeks. I emailed Uncle Duppie and he kindly shared his recipe (or rather method) with me, which we have been using and I have shared below. He uses a ready made spice called Crown Safari Biltong Spice which you can buy online - it is seriously good! I would like to make my own spice from scratch, but thought I'd start with this for now... but will share again when we have perfected our own spice mix!
1kg Lean Beef. We use silverside which is perfect, but you could also use thick flank or topside. It will need to be cut along the grain into thick, long strips - our butcher does this for us which ensures they are nice and even.
40-50g Crown Safari Biltong Spice
1-2Tbsp Brown Malt Vinegar
Place the meat slices in a plastic or earthenware dish (Metal/enamel dishes are unsuitable as the salt mixture can react with the metal and discolour the meat).
Sprinkle the meat evenly with the spice mix. You may have to layer the meat, so ensure each piece is covered in spices.
Sprinkle with the vinegar.
Cover with clingfilm and leave to marinade for a minimum of 6 hours, but ideally overnight.
You will need to turn the meat two or three times while it is marinading - maybe after two and then four hours.
If using a biltong box, line the bottom with newspaper to catch the initial drops as the meat starts to dry.
Leave to dry for 3-4 days, depending on how dry you want it.
Biltong is best when it is soft, moist and red inside with a hard brown outer layer. You can into a slice to check if it has reached this stage. If it has, it is ready to be sliced and eaten. It should not be stored in a plastic container - it will sweat and go off. It is best stored in brown paper bags, or you can wrap it in clingfilm or store in a plastic dish in the freezer until you are ready to use it. Just thaw in the fridge overnight and then at room temperature for about an hour. If you would prefer dry biltong, just keep it in a cool dry place in a muslin or brown paper bag to allow air circulation. You will need to cut off any fat as it will go rancid, but the meat will last for a long time and continue to dry the longer you leave it!
As I mentioned before you can enjoy this as a snack or as part of a meal. I love having it on toast with avocado for breakfast or with pap and a fried egg. I will try and share a few more biltong recipes in the next few weeks and update them here. Please share with me if you have any favourite biltong recipes!