Make your own biltong
A busy mother can make her own biltong, writes Joanne Gibson
In a country of meat lovers, biltong is without doubt our number one snack. Dry or moist, fatty or lean, it's the bowl we all reach for while watching sport on TV or waiting for the flames to die down on the braai.
But the dried meat which began out of necessity for early European settlers, who preserved whatever meat they couldn't eat immediately by cutting the "bil" (rump) into "tonge" (strips) and dousing it with vinegar, salt and spices, is now very much a luxury item.
It's got a lot to do with the price of meat, given that it takes a kilogram to produce 500g of biltong (even less in the case of brittle-dry snapsticks). But you're looking at anything from R250/kg to R600/kg for a packet of beef bilo these days, depending on brand, which is almost enough to make you serve peanuts instead.
I say "almost" because you don't need to buy biltong when you can easily make your own.
This I discovered at the launch of the 2012 Biltong Maker of the Year competition, conceived by wine producer Stellenbosch Hills in 2008 and now bigger and better thanks to sponsors Freddy Hirsch, SA's main suppliers of spice to the meat industry. This year's challenge (with R60000 in prize money as an incentive) is to make the biltong that matches best with the Stellenbosch Hills Shiraz 2007.
As Freddy Hirsch marketing manager Rui Jardem says: "It's an annual competition that combines two of SA's favourite products, biltong and wine."
There is a delicious synergy between the two, which I think has something to do with umami, the "savouriness" now officially recognised as our fifth basic taste, alongside sweet, sour, bitter and salty. Humans experience umami for the first time in breast milk (which apparently contains as much as broth!) and thereafter in anything from shellfish to biltong, soy sauce and, yes, some wines. But after learning how to make biltong with Elise de Witt, Freddy Hirsch's in-house butcher (or "meat-cutting technician", as she calls herself), I have to disagree when Stellenbosch Hills winemaker PG Slabbert says: "The art of drying meat nowadays is as specialised as the art of winemaking."
Here's how it works. You ask your friendly local butcher (and there are still over 8 000 independent butcheries in SA) to cut you a few suitable pieces of meat. "You can use rump or sirloin but it's pricy," says De Witt. "I personally believe silverside is best because you get a nice layer of fat."
You pop the meat into a plastic bag with some salt and spices to which you can add a dash of vinegar, Worcestershire sauce or even wine. After giving it all a good massage, you leave it in the fridge for a few hours, then hang it up somewhere warm and well ventilated to dry.
Apparently an oven with only the pilot light turned on works nicely. But my new Mellerware Biltong King (R399 at Makro) took away any niggles I had about mould and flies. And three days later, there it was: dry on the outside, moist on the inside, exactly the way I like it.
Will the judges like it? Actually, I want to tweak my spice recipe to match it to the Stellenbosch Hills Shiraz 2007 (around R58) with its rich cherry, black pepper and wood-smoke notes.
To enter the competition, call 021 882 3828 or visit www.stellenbosch-hills.co.za before August 1. For R150 you'll receive an entry pack including a bottle of the shiraz and a Freddy Hirsch spice pack. The closing date for your 500g of biltong to arrive at Stellenbosch Hills is August 31, and the winner will be announced on September 13.