When it comes to South African whole food and health there are many theories, diets, and guidelines. Almost all of them have some counter debate. Often the simpler view is the most effective. Our food rules are easy: keep it natural, keep it simple, keep it colourful and cook it yourself. When you stick to these rules you eliminate 90% of diet-related problems. Homemade South African biltong ticks these boxes and it has all the benefits of local food.
Traditionally biltong has always been a meat dish but with the rise in the more conscious consumer, there are also some great tasting vegetarian biltong options. In this article, we give you both the meat version and meat-less version of the deliciously traditional South African Biltong recipe.
Making South Africa's Ultimate Whole Food: Biltong
There are many different ways to make biltong and even more ways to make biltong spice. Trial and error is required to figure out which way works for you, but for the most part, we are big fans of the simplest approach. We also share details of how to make biltong spice and the secret tips and tricks to making vegan biltong (yes, it's doable and surprisingly yum!). Read on for more details of each of these recipes.
Traditional Biltong Ingredients:
- Your choice of cut of meat (we recommend sirloin, rump or silverside beef). Read further to find out how to substitute the meat to make meat-less biltong (yes, it is very doable and surprisingly YUM!)
- Brown spirit vinegar (enough to thoroughly cover your meat or base ingredient)
- Biltong spice (enough to thoroughly coat your raw biltong)
- A sharp knife
- A biltong box
- Meat hooks (or sterilised paper clips bent into double hook shape
- Slice the meat into 1cm thick slices.
- Place the slices in a single layer in a sealable container.
- Pour vinegar over the layer until completely covered.
- Seal the container and leave to marinate for 3 – 4 hours.
- Remove your raw biltong from the container and pat dry with a clean cloth.
- Line a large serving plate with biltong spice and place your raw biltong in the spice so the underside is completely covered in spice. Coat the upper surface with biltong spice until completely covered.
- Cover the biltong with a tea towel and leave to cure for 1 hour.
- Once cured in the spice for sufficient time attach the biltong to individual meat hooks and hang inside an enclosed, aerated biltong box for 3 – 4 days (drying time varies depending on climate and personal preference).
- Remove from the box and slice to desired thickness.
- Slice and enjoy!
Making Your Own Biltong Spice
- Ground black pepper
- Course ground coriander kernels
Make up the spice mixture to the required volume by mixing 1/3 of each of the ingredients and applying to the biltong as required.
How To Make A Meat-Less Version Of Traditional South African Biltong
The beauty of living in the time we do is the increasing choice and innovation we have with food and the ability to support various diet preferences and requirements. I don’t know of any South Africans who don’t like biltong. It is part of growing up in our rich heritage and is one of the few traditional foods that transcends cultures. However, I do know of many who have sacrificed their love for biltong due to its high red meat factor. Making a meat-less biltong for vegetarians or vegans or just for extra variety to your dish is incredibly simple. Here’s the secret:
Replace your raw meat with slices of brinjal or brown mushrooms, approximately 1cm in thickness. Keep all other steps for creating delicious biltong exactly the same.
Tips for Even Better Biltong
- Fat takes much longer to dry than the meat itself. The quicker the biltong dries the better. If you have a particularly fatty piece of meat cut some of the fat away before starting the biltong making process. This reduces the drying time.
- The vinegar is key for biltong. Vinegar kills off any bacteria and pathogens in the meat and prepares it for curing. The longer you leave it to marinate in the vinegar the better.
- For spicy biltong add some paprika or chili to your biltong spice mix. For a sweet and sour flavour add some brown sugar and baking soda. Play around with your spice mixture or ask friends – there is always someone who knows a secret recipe for amazing biltong spice!
- A biltong box essentially provides a dry, hot, insect-free environment to facilitate dehydration. It is essential if you live in a humid or damp climate. A biltong box is very quick and easy to make by following any one of the many videos on youtube. It can be made from wood, a cardboard box or a plastic storage crate. If the DIY option doesn’t appeal you can buy simple biltong boxes online through Takealot, Yuppiechef or the like.
The Benefits Of Homemade Whole Foods
Nothing can really replace the small bounce in your step when you make something yourself that you really enjoy. Obviously, there is the additional perk that you know what is in it and how far it has traveled. By using naturally simple, whole ingredients there is less chance that your spices will have fillers or other undeclared additives in them. The lack of processed food ingredients is not only better for your health but also food that is better for the economy.
We enjoy the meat and vegetarian versions of biltong. If you haven’t yet attempted to make your own biltong we highly recommend it!