So after 4 days of drying, the inaugural batch of biltong was ready.
Armed with a brand spanking new meat cleaver from our flat pack Swedish comrades at Ikea, I took to slicing up each of the slabs of meat, careful to slice as thin as possible. Initial taste test was positive.
One thing I noticed was the quality of the meat, or lack of. When one peruses the shopping aisles for the best looking cut, it’s easy to pick the one that looks the best on the outside, but peel back the layers (like an onion) and sometimes it will reveal not so good news on the inside, as was the case here.
My loss was my old faithfuls gain, on-hand to snuffle the off cuts that otherwise would have been eaten by the waste bin (its disappointed open mouth, pictured right…).
I’m not sure who is at fault here, the farmer for the feed he/she/they give the cow (does corn-fed or grass-fed make a difference?), the supermarket for buying inferior and mass-produced cuts, or me for not acquiring meat from the local butchers, opting instead for convenience as most of us do. Probably a mix of all three.
That said, the overall process worked well, and the taste was great. My eldest son is a big fan of biltong and he gave me a five star review (out of five not ten) for the first batch so I’m happy with that, and I wouldn’t disagree with him.
By far the best cuts were the ones which had dried out more and had more of the dry rub on them, less so the ones which were still relatively pink in the middle.
After a long day, the wood-burning stove went on and the wife and I settled down to watch a new drama about Dennis Nilsen, one of the UK’s most notorious serial killers, armed with our own selection of dismembered cuts of flesh and a glass of South African Pinotage (my favourite wine) to wash it down with.
Needless to say the supermarket limitation of 35g portions don’t apply when making ones own and we managed to snuffle quite a bit, very moreish.
I vacuum-sealed the rest in small bags, but I suspect they won’t last long either.
Outside sourcing better meat from the local butchers and not supermarkets, some tweaks to the drying box are required. Magnetic strips to replace the Velcro ones on the door and hatch will provide a tighter seal on the unit and improve airflow, a tighter mesh on the vent will prevent flies getting in, a metal tray inserted at the bottom of the unit instead of just tin foil will catch any juices and prevent a spoiling of the wooden base, a non-LED bulb will give off more heat (I can’t find old-school bulbs anywhere which is good for the environment of course so not complaining too much) and a place to dry the meat (garden shed as opposed to kitchen as the box is quite big) will prevent grumbles from the her-indoors.
All in all, a good experiment and one that yielded very positive results, not only in taste and cost savings, but in the knowledge that once we go off-grid, no off-cuts or left over meat will ever go to waste.