Going Back To My Roots
What does that mean? "Going back to my roots" From a young age my parents would buy us a type of jerky, a South African jerky called Biltong. You normally use game type meat like Kudu which is a type of Buck or ostrich and even buffalo. I remember our friends parents making it after they would go hunting and it was amazing. Kim and I decided to make some and kim did the instructions :)
After seeing a friend’s Biltong Box (think ventilated box, light bulb, computer fan and racks to dehydrate meat, fruit etc and you’re there), which conveniently stopped working forcing the friends to find another alternative (who would want to waste delicious seasoned meat) Dale thought to himself “I can do that at home using my oven that I have in my home”. So began another obsession, but I don’t think this will be a passing one.
I have known Dale and his family since maybe 2003 and basically from the start they exhibited a distinct, deep-seeded, strong love of meat. So I cannot even remember when I first tried it, but I’m fairly certain it was the thinly shaved type, not the slices or sticks (ah the variety). Biltong sold in Australia (unless you seek out less commercially produced biltong) seems to be very, very dry and tough enough to clean your dog’s teeth efficiently. We have purchased a Biltong fail in South Australia in a European grocery store in Hahndorf, holy s**t it was too spicy for Dale to eat and he ended up binning most of the strip of meat. Thank goodness I wasn’t able to eat it, although I was a little envious at first. Some of the sticks of biltong can tend to be dentist appointment makers too because they are so thin they just keep drying out fast.
These friends had to resort to using their oven to save the day, but their Biltong Box is salvageable, this being super convenient because it meant there was no need to buy any equipment. They used the hooks their Biltong Box came with and some paperclips. They had proper store bought biltong spice mix too. We didn’t, and you’ve gotta strike while the iron’s hot around our house so we improvised!
After reading lots of blog posts we found great variation in recipes for the spice mix and also very few people used the cheaters method of utilizing your oven (sacrilege to purists but we are not storing meat for 3+ days anywhere or waiting that long to taste the result of our hard work). I say hard work, but it isn’t really.
What you need and how to make Biltong magic happen
A convection oven with a light and a keep warm setting (our oven is gas and this didn’t work for us (too hot) so I just used the oven fan and light)
Hooks, paperclips, skewers, bulldog clips, pegs
Dripping tray to catch any moisture that comes from the meat
Packet of marinade mix
Chilli Flakes in the marinade and to coat prior to hanging
Dale found several online retailers who sell premixed marinade so we might try one of these next time, or not, we’ll see how this turns out. Plus most of the spice combinations suggested online seem to consist of salt, vinegar, sugar, coriander seeds, chilli flakes in various ratios. But like anything you can add whatever you like unless you’re a purist and have a specific expectation of what the flavor combination should be. Some butchers and specialty grocers sell some super fancy flavoured biltong. Posh.
As you can see in the pic, we cheated and just used a tasty sounding dry meat marinade from the supermarket. It smelt super smoky and sweet so it should be interesting. I added in Worcestershire sauce to make the powder into a lumpy paste. Then probably too much bicarb, we’ll see how it turns out but I think I should have added 1tsp. And vinegar to make the paste easier to spread onto the meat. We referred to several different instructions, some suggest vinegar rinse first, others say rinse in vinegar/water mix after marinating, others still say add it into the marinade. Some suggest using bicarb to inhibit mould others not. We just went for it like usual.
The important thing is to keep everything clean to reduce contamination of the meat because you aren’t using heat to kill all the bacteria, you’re relying on the salt, bicarb and vinegar to do this. How old school. Our packet mix did contain salt, as all such mixes tend to. Since we had such thin slices of meat I knew it wouldn’t take very long to dry them, and that we’d dry them thoroughly for storage or keep them a little less dehydrated for immediate eating.
Because we’re such noobs we went to a butcher and asked what they suggested we use as amateurs. The man who helped us was actually really nice, tattoos, missing teeth, a real meat lover. Anyway, he knew what we wanted to make and even showed us what other South African pro-Biltong makers bought (big chunks of meat, way too much for us should we fail). We settled on yearling topside schnitzel because most of the cutting was done and they were nice and thin so would dry really quickly.
Dale cut them along the grain to create 4cm by 1cm strips, then cut these in half to shorten them to fit our oven’s height. I then mixed the pieces of meat with the marinade and we left them in the fridge overnight.
Next morning I rinsed off the marinade with water, in hindsight I should have rinsed them in a water/vinegar mix to keep the bacteria at bay, dried the meat with paper toweling and then used skewers to hang the meat between the rungs of an oven rack placed at the highest position in the oven. For the last skewer I tossed the meat in chilli flakes before hanging them. As you can see I hung the meat in the oven making sure none of the pieces were touching. Also as mentioned earlier our lowest setting for keep warm was a little too warm, you want to dry not cook the meat. Our fan is super strong too so I’m hoping it’ll be efficient enough to dry the meat by the time Dale gets home. Because Rufus is such an asshat I put a chair in front of the oven so he couldn’t break in since the oven wasn’t hot enough to keep him at away.
So we wait 3+ hours, depending on how dry we want the meat to get. But the colour change is a fairly good guide, the meat goes a dark brown colour and the meat loses its’ juicy-squishyness. I’m sure Dale will be more than happy to taste test, Rufus too.
The house smells like a butcher.
I decided to light the oven (switching it to keep warm) every hour-or-so to pump a little warmth into it. But sticking my hand into the oven I feel like the light creates a teeny tiny bit of warmth.
Proper storage suggestions state that using anything other than paper doesn’t allow the meat to breathe and can lead to the meat being ruined. So we threw the biltong into some paper lunch bags and put these in the fridge.
The chilli biltong has a sweet chilli garlic taste and the other one is smoky with a heat that builds up slow. Dale is so happy with how they taste and is now looking where to buy venison or kangaroo but that will happen in the next month or so.
Will you give it a go?
Let me know what you think.
Will you give it a go?
Let me know what you think.