Many Tastes and Flavours
A Brief History
The history of dried meat and fish harks back to the days when travelling long distances took a very long time or where weather conditions made it difficult to store food and keep it edible. Smoking or salting meat and fish to preserve it has been used at one time or another by all people and in all regions. South Africans started to dry and salt their meat centuries ago, when the only mode of transport was an ox wagon. They needed to have a source of protein that would last, without rotting, on their long journeys (e.g The Great Trek).
The Recipe and Ingredients
The tradition has been passed down from generation to generation, with every generation adding their own little twist to the original recipe. Usually, the meat used is not the best cut of beef, but one of the cheapest. The basic spice recipe is salt, coriander seeds, pepper and vinegar. Many subtle flavour profiles can be attained by adjusting the proportions and varieties of these basic ingredients. Salt: Choose from table salt, sea salt, coarse salt, kosher salt etc. Pepper: Choose from coarse ground, fine ground, black pepper, white pepper etc. Vinegar: Apple cider vinegar, table vinegar, white wine vinegar, red wine vinegar, balsamic vinegar, rice vinegar etc. Coriander seeds: fine, medium or coarse ground Other ingredients used in some recipes include: mustard, Worcestershire sauce, peri-peri and other spices. Saltpeter was used to give the meat a pink interior colouring and for preservation, but is not commonly used anymore, due to health concerns. South African Biltong is air dried and is never smoked.
The traditional method was to hang the strips of meat in the open and let them slowly dry in the wind. This led to much of the meat having to be thrown away due to fly larvae infestations. Electric fans are now used to keep the flies from settling on the meat and also to dry it faster. Special biltong machines are available with built-in hanging rails, a lamp to keep it warm and a fan to dry the meat. If you have a special South African biltong recipe you want to share, please send it to us and we may include it in a blog.