About South African Biltong
South African Biltong are strips of salted, dried meat (beef, game and ostrich meat are traditionally used to make biltong) and considered a South African delicacy. Biltong is not made using meat that has been cooked or smoked, but rather fresh prime meat cuts are used. It takes between 2-6 weeks to marinade and prepare the meat ready for consumption. Once the biltong making process is complete the meat is kept in a dry, cool area preferably in a cotton bag (similar to those now used to store breads and vegetables). Biltong should never be frozen as there are no benefits in doing so. In South Africa, biltong is generally made during the winter months but can be made in summer with fans used to cool the air.
South Africans have taken their biltong seriously for hundreds of years, since the Voortrekkers, or pioneers, migrated from the Cape regions. According to African folklore, migrating tribesmen herding their livestock would drape long strips of impala or kudu under their saddles so the chafing would tenderize the meat and the horse's sweat would flavour it. The seasoning has evolved since, with the use of coriander, vinegar, salt and sugar used to marinade the meat. Everyone has a recipe, and everyone thinks theirs is the best. Some South African biltong makers even add Worcestershire sauce, and brown sugar to keep it moist.
The most popular cuts of meat used to make biltong are the muscle running along the backbone, and any muscles taken from the region of the buttock, including the silverside, topside and thick flank. Whichever cut is used, it must always be fresh, lean meat from a young animal. In warmer climates with a high humidity the strips of meat are usually of a thinner cut than those where the temperatures are cooler and the humidity low.
In the preparation process, the main ingredient in the spice mix is salt, which helps to preserve the meat. All the other ingredients are optional but also serve various purposes. The bicarbonate of soda prevents mould forming on biltong made in humid areas, the saltpetre gives an attractive red colour to beef biltong, the sugar counteracts the loss of meat juices, and the pepper and coriander add flavour.
All the ingredients which make-up the biltong mix are added together and rubbed into the meat strips. All the strips of beef are then put into large enamel bowls or containers with the thicker strips at the bottom and the thinner ones at the top. Vinegar is then sprinkled over each layer of biltong strips and left overnight in a cool place. The strips are then hung to dry for 14 to 21 days, or until the biltong is dark brown on the outside and a moist red colour on the inside. Beef biltong can be successfully frozen to keep it nice and moist until needed.
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