South Africa has a lot to offer the world. Great literature, rich history, diversified culture and beautiful locales are at the top of the list. What else is at the top of the list? South African Cuisine. South Africa’s delectable cuisine offers a variety of dishes. One of the most popular, however, is Biltong.
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In case you were wondering, Biltong is a type of dried, cured meat. Originating from South Africa, the 400-year-old traditional beef is considered to be very nutritious.
‘Curing’ (preservation of meat by drying, salting, or smoking) was one of the primary methods for preserving meat in South Africa before the introduction of refrigeration. While various types of meat can be used to prepare biltong, the most common however is beef. This probably because of its affordability and availability. Game meats, ostrich fillets, chicken and fish are also used. Fish ‘biltong’ is commonly known as bokkoms.
Biltong is made from raw meat which have been cut into flat strips across the grain of the muscle or long strips following the grain. Other cuts can be used but they will not be as high in quality. For the best cuts, steaks, fillet or sirloin are recommended. Biltong should not be confused with Beef Jerky though. While they are both dried, spices meats, the ingredients used are exceedingly different. Other differences include the fact that while biltong is dried – it is never smoked, jerky on the other hand is often smoked. Biltong is also a lot thicker than jerky which is usually very thin.
When preparing Biltong, the most common ingredients are:
- Black pepper
- Brown sugar
- Chili Pepper
- Bicarbonate Soda
However, not everyone uses the exact combination of ingredients. The ingredients used depends on the individual.
- Cut the meat into strip sizes of your choice, preferably between 2cm to 4cm thickness.
- Mix your spices in a separate clean bowl.
- Sprinkle vinegar over the meat.
- Dip the meat strips into the spices bowl, mix it around until the beef is evenly coated.
- Put the meat in a tray for a few hours in the fridge, preferably overnight.
- Dump any blood that will seep out of the meat.
- Put the the meat in a water-vinegar solution to remove excess surface salt; then squeeze the meat to remove as much liquid as possible.
- Roll in spices once more, if you chose (preferably without salt).
- Cut the meat into smaller slices and make small incisions through the meat that you’ll use to hang it.
- Hang on your ‘hanger’.
- Place your hanger in a warm, dry place where it won’t touch anything either at the sides or bottom.
- Leave for 3-20 days. (It’s up to you to decide when the meat is dry enough for you).
Initially, Biltong was made during the winters because the chances of mold growth and bacterial occurrence were low. Using Heat to dry the Biltong was only introduced in recent years.
Biltong is quite popular, not just in South Africa but around the world. Biltong can be be added to stews or diced up and added to muffins or bread, but it is mostly eaten on its own as a snack. It can be commonly found in South African grocery stores and butcheries. There are special Biltong retailers, however, who sell Biltong either moist, medium or dry – depending on the customer’s preference. Biltong also has a notable presence in Canada, New Zealand, Australia, India and the United Kingdom. Biltong doesn’t have much of a presence in the United States though, due to the popularity of beef jerky. However, in recent years, Biltong has seen a surge of popularity in the United States thanks to South African immigrants who travel with their local foods with them.
Biltong – South Africa’s favorite spicy snack – has been around for centuries and will be around for centuries to come. The fact that it can be used in salads, stews, soups and even bread, serves as proof of South African’s creativity when it comes to their food. If Biltong has whet your appetite, can you imagine what other foods South African has to offer?