If you think Soccer World Cup tickets are expensive, you obviously haven’t bought any biltong lately. Selling for around R180 (about R260 in 2016) per kilogram, often more, it has to be one of the most expensive delicacies on the omnivore’s hit list.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. When a friend recently asked PM reader Grant Immelman to make a doggy treats dryer for her business, it was a perfectly logical choice. After all, he’d been in the industrial air treatment and ventilation business for years, and had a solid reputation among friends and colleagues for his DIY prowess and problem-solving skills.
Says Immelman: “I’ve always been interested in building things. It sounded like an interesting project, so I agreed to help her out.” This man knows his stuff. Previous projects include designing and building his own Hi-Fi speakers and amplifier (he’s a hardcore audiophile) and the construction of solar water heating systems for his Somerset West home. The doggy treat dryer proved an easy one (he came up with a nifty modular solution) –but it got him thinking. “Personally, I find biltong much tastier than dried liver strips, so I decided to make myself a biltong dryer while I was at it.”
Immelman had a few specific criteria for his dryer. The system had to be modular, to allow for easy expansion. It also had to be hygienic, constructed readily available materials, and affordable (in fact, it cost him under R300 to complete). It was about this point that PM got wind of the project, and in no time, Immelman had knocked up a prototype to make sure everything worked as envisaged. About four days later, a piece of perfectly dried and delectable biltong was delivered to my desk (then reluctantly shared among my appreciative colleagues).
Building the dryer for PM’s June issue took no longer than three hours to complete – and that included pauses to chat, drink coffee and take photographs. Says Immelman: “It’s an easy weekend afternoon project that can involve the kids. And if you don’t want to make biltong, I suppose it can always be used to dry fruit.” Fruit dryer be dammed!
Even though Immelman knew nothing about making biltong (he’s a self confessed techie, not a butcher!), the batch that went into the dryer for the story tasted as good as anything I had ever bought, and I buy a lot – I was seriously impressed.
To find out how to make the stuff, Immelman went online and found the extremely useful Web sites www.3men.com/biltong.htm and www.biltongmakers.com, and then relied on the Freddy Hirsch range of biltong spices (they also have easy to follow biltong making instructions on their packets). While researching the article I was supplied a tried and tested biltong recipe by Rodney Downs, an ex-butcher and now owner of a Spar supermarket in Hilton, KwaZulu-Natal. Here goes…
* Silverside or Topside (the quantity of biltong you want to make will determine the amount of meat you’ll need. Remember: you’ll lose about 40 per cent of the mass once the meat has dried).
* 1 kg coarse salt
* 200 g brown sugar
* 50 g white pepper
* 20 g salpetre/saltpeter (acts as a preservative)
* Vinegar (acts as a preservative)
* 20 g Bicarbonate of soda
* A number of different spices can be added depending on your taste e.g. Garlic; Chilli; 100 g ground Coriander
1. Mix all dry ingredients together.
2. Cut meat into strips (the thicker you cut the strips, the longer the meat will take to dry).
3. Sprinkle salt and spice mixture on the bottom of your container.
4. Pack meat strips flat on top.
5. Sprinkle a bit of vinegar over the layer of meat, followed by another layer of salt and spice mixture.
6. Place another layer of meat on top.
7. Continue the process until the meat has been used up.
8. Place in fridge overnight to marinate. The thicker your strips of meat, the longer you might need to marinate the meat.
9. The next day, soak a cloth in vinegar and then use to wipe lumps of salt off of the meat strips. 10. Hang up meat strips in a well-ventilated, cool, dry area. It is advisable to use a fan to help the meat dry faster.
If you are making biltong in an area with high humidity, it is essential to use a fan. 11. It will take about a week for the biltong to dry. The thicker the meat strips, the longer the biltong will take to dry. It will, of course, also depend on whether you like wet or dry biltong. The 40 W light bulb in Immelman’s dryer produces a temperature of about 35 degrees Celsius and a relative humidity of 45 per cent. It will easily accommodate 2 kg of meat.
Basically, says Immelman, it all comes down to experimentation. For example, you might want to try using a 60 W bulb instead, or fit an extra fan. He generally allows the meat to hang for about four days before removing it, but sometimes even that can seem like a lifetime. “I like my biltong wet, so I usually start tucking into the thinner pieces after just two days.”
To read the article that appeared in the June 2010 issue of Popular Mechanics explaining how to make your own biltong dryer, click here