Monday, 14 July 2014

Biltong (a bit like beef jerky but a million times better)

Biltong is air dried beef.  Originating from Africa this was how tribesman would 'cure' meat and preserve it so that protein was available on the move.   We find it is a perfect snack for lunchboxes (or long train journeys!) and is also impressive enough to be part of a tapas or hors d'ouevre offering.

If you want to buy this in the UK you either pay through the nose at the Selfridges or Harrod's counter or online  (£32 - £50 a kilo!!!).  Or you can suffer the cheap nasty version that has hit the high street called beef jerky which is frankly a sugary abomination that should not be mentioned in the same breath as the original.  Even shop bought biltong can have sugar and MSG which is totally unnecessary if the right spice mix is used.

It's not a particularly pretty snack and sometimes we have had to employ a bit of arm twisting to get our more conservative friends to try it but they are soon converted.  Don't be put off by the look of the fat - I am not a lover of big chunks of animal fat and will refuse even the crispiest pork crackling (much to the dismay of the rest of my family) but I would kill anyone who tried to steal the fat off my biltong.

We don't always use organic but you have to go for the best you can afford.  Certainly the first time you try out the recipe it is probably best to go for an affordable joint just incase you make a mistake and find it is too salty or strong to taste

A dehydrator is a must unless you have space for a dedicated biltong maker.

You could invest in a coffee grinder or electric pepper grinder but we have managed fine with a pestle and mortar.

We would normally prepare about  2 kilos of beef 9 (a good sized roasting joint) as it does shrink and it can be frozen.  The ingredients below are based on 500g for testing purposes - just multiply ingredients equally as joint gets bigger.

We find we get the best results with Aspall vinegar.

Some tips for cutting the beef:

  • You need different amounts of salt depending on the thickness of the beef strips.  If you want to try thinner strips use less salt but remember there will be a lot of shrinkage during drying
  • Normally when you are carving you would cut against the grain but when cutting into strips, go with the grain. 
  • As this is a curing process it is vital that every surface of the meat is coated in salt and vinegar 


500g of beef (silverside or topside roasting joint)
2 tbsp of sea salt or 1.5tbsp of himalayan rock salt (which is much stronger!)
1 tbsp of coriander seeds
1 tbsp of peppercorns.  If using ground pepper use 1/2 to 2/3 of tbsp
3 tbsp of red wine vinegar.  (Can replace with cider vinegar)


  • Grind the coriander seeds and peppercorns in a pestle and mortar.
  • Add the salt and mix together the dry ingredients in a large dish. 
  • Cut the meat into equal size strips of approximately 2 centimere width.  
  • Coat each surface of the meat in the mix and leave in the dish
  • Pour the vinegar over the meat and move the meat around to ensure every side of the meat has been in contact with the vinegar 
  • Wrap the dish in clingfilm and put in the fridge for 2 days.  Every 12 hours rotate and move the meat around to ensure that the marinade is covering the meat equally
  • After two days the meat should all be brown with no red areas - any red areas means there is not enough salt and vinegar and you may need to marinade for longer
  • Lay the meat out onto the dehydrator racks so that the pieces are not touching
  • Set the dehydrator or 35c and set for continuous.  Smaller pieces will be ready in 72 hours,  Larger bits will be ready in 5 days. 
  • The pieces are ready when they are half the size of the original meat and are thoroughly dried.  You can test this by checking there is no 'give' or 'squashiness' when you press the meat.  Thin bits should splinter if twisted
  • The drier it is the longer it will last at room temperature. Wrap in greaseproof paper and store in a dry place (we use kitchen, Simon's mum using the airing cupboard!)
  • To store for longer than a week: cool, store in a air tight freezer bag and freeze for up to three months.  (We would store longer - this are cautious guidelines!)

This is served on its own as a snack - delicious sitting outside a tent with a glass of wine or as a paleo snack watching the box! Just make sure you have a sharp knife, cut in thin slices against the grain... 

1 comment: