Biltong is a dish that has been made in several Southern African countries for centuries.It is a dried meat product, and resembles jerky, but is much different in that there is a much higher fat content in Biltong and it is cut much thicker. While all recipes vary by family, the common ingredients include meat, salt, vinegar, spices (especially salt, pepper, and coriander). The spices can be varied depending on flavor preferences, but the salt and vinegar ratios are important, as they facilitate the curing process. A sample recipe from here.
- 5kg sirloin/rump meat (normally use silverside or topside)
- A cup of brown sugar
- 500 grams of coarse salt(not normal table salt)
- 2 tablespoons of bicarbonate soda
- 1 cup of broken up coriander seeds
- 1 cup of red wine vinegar
- 1 tbsp cracked up black pepper
Just what is the procedure in making your first batch of biltong?
Begin by cutting your meat into strips; remember to only cut on the normal grain of the meat. I definitely prefer our end product to be a little moist on the inside, so if you enjoy a bit of pink in the middle, try to keep it 5cm wide. If you like it dry, you can make them a bit thinner.
Now you need to mix up the salt, coriander, pepper, bicarbonate of soda and the sugar together to make rubbing mixture. You now need to use a large glass container; wipe and rub some of the mix into each item of meat. Place a solitary layer of the mixture in the bottom of this container. Spray some of the red vinegar over meat strips then continue the exact same procedure till all the meat is layered and there is no more vinegar left. You need to remove the access salt from the meat otherwise you may produce really salty biltong.
You now have to cover the container with some cling wrap and leave it to marinade for at-least 12 to 24 hrs depending on the thickness of the meat and the strength of the flavour you want.
At this point you should find a cool completely dry and well-aerated location to hang your meat (we normally hang it high it in the garage area and cover it up with a net to keep the bugs and flies away). If you live on the beach front or in an area where it’s not always dry, you may want to invest in a biltong-maker-ventilation-system. Not everybody likes it moist, so for those that don’t want the biltong to be moist you can leave it for longer to dry out more completely.
Get some galvanized wire hooks to hang your meat. You can hang them until the exterior is dark. Try some of the biltong after 2 days. You will then be able to do a taste test to determine if it is working for you or whether you need to leave it hanging for a while longer.”
Where did it originate?
BILTONG is formed from the Dutch words “BIL” (rump or hind quarter) and “TONG” meaning “strip” = a strip of meat. (Source.)
The actual curing process of meat was done by the indigenous people of Africa prior to the influences of European colonizers or settlers. This was done using coarse salt and a drying process in order to preserve the meats. The salt killed the bacteria that would otherwise spoil the meats, because the indigenous peoples did not have a way to chill it for long.
European settlers began to come to Southern Africa in the 17th century, and with them they brought spices and a new method for curing meats. The African people began to cure their meats using vinegar, as well as spices to add flavor to the meat. Nomadic people especially would cure as much meat as possible so that they could easily store it during their trip. Any animal and cut can be used, such as beef, chicken, fish, and ostrich.
Today, although mainly made from beef, it is still a food that is enjoyed by Southern Africans, as well as people worldwide. It is commercially made, but Southern African people say that it is nothing like making it yourself.
You can read more about the origins here.
This one dish has most of the necessary components one needs in the diet: protein, carbohydrates, and fat. The main issue is the availability of the meat product. While it can be made with any type of meat (and sometimes fish), it still does not help with food security if there is no access to the necessary ingredients. This is especially true in more urban areas of Africa, as there is not as large of an agricultural industry that allows for some self-sufficiency. Within agricultural/rural regions, there is a greater access to farming and livestock that can be used to make dishes such as this one.
More information on food insecurity, especially regarding urban versus rural environments and their relationship to income can be found here.