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How to make biltong

OK, it's not cooked on a barbecue but what better way to start your taste buds twitching and your stomach juices going than with some biltong? It's easy to make biltong, lots of people over complicate the process and I have tried numerous techniques but I always come back to this one. It is the easiest and produces the best tasting biltong I know, even South African's I know crave it. Whilst not cooked the curing process makes it safe to eat, like ham. Curing is the process of salting the meat and was used to preserve meat before refrigeration.

Although it might look like the best quality steak biltong is in fact made from cheaper cuts like silverside, top side or sometimes top rump. If it's aged longer or not it doesn't really matter as the hanging process will add to the ageing anyway. I wait for supermarket specials on these large rolled joints of beef and make biltong then. If you have good ventilation you shouldn't have a problem with mould even in a humid summer but I do prefer to make it in spring and autumn.

Remove all the packaging and slice the beef into finger think steaks with the meat grain, if you cut it thinner it will be ready sooner, thicker steaks will take longer. Of course you can cut each one slightly thinker so they are not all ready at the same time. Take a non-metallic dish, a metal one will cause the meat to taint. Sprinkle some salt crystals, it's important to use crystals as removing table salt is much harder, in to a dish and place the first steak on the salt. Sprinkle salt on the top of the steak and continue until all of the steaks are salted. Leave for one hour.

I prefer black pepper and coriander flavour for my biltong. I grind equal quantities of black pepper corns and coriander seeds to make an even textured seasoning mix.

After the hour has passed you can see the juices from the meat collecting in the dish. With cold water rinse any remaining salt crystals from the beef. In a dish apply a generous layer of the pepper and coriander seasoning mix. Make sure all of the steaks are covered in the seasoning.

Look at the steak and decide which is the thicker end. Near that end use a sharp knife to pierce the meat and make two slits in the beef. Cut these across the short thickness, against the grain, so they do not split or tear out when you hang it. The next thing to do is make a loop of string. Your beef must not come into contact with metal, a string loop can be put onto a metal hook for the hanging process. You can now hang the meat strips in the biltong box.

A biltong box is a name for a well ventilated enclosure that will not permit flies to get to the hanging meat. A myriad of ways to make a biltong box exist but a simple coat hanger and old net curtain will suffice. You can make something specific for the task too. Just remember that the meat will hang about 30cm or 12" so it's worth making it a little larger if possible.

If you don't have a good airflow try placing a desk fan near your biltong box. Point the fan away from the meat, rather utilise the air disturbance than blow the meat. If you point the fan at the meat it will desiccate on the side nearest the fan and will not dry evenly.

My experience, and this depends on how you like your biltong, is that 7-10 days are enough to make the biltong. A few extra days will see the meat dry a little more. Pinch the thickest part of the meat between finger and thumb, the meat is ready when the is resistance but not soft. If it has no give at all it is quite dry, some people prefer this, and it will be more akin to beef jerky than the traditional South African snack.

If you like droewors, dried beef sausage, simply hang some boerwors in your biltong box and follow the same drying technique.