Biltong 2.0…

Many lessons were learned during the processing of the first batch of biltong.

The box needed some upgrades. First was to close off all open holes, the mesh at the back of the unit was too wide and one gnat did manage to make its grubby way in to v1.0, so some cheap fly mesh was acquired and secured.

The small holes too on the side of the box (which house the dowels) were plugged by a handy box of washers I purchased decades ago that I’d never used (who would have thought a small box of plastic tap circles would have ended up on a caveman’s kiln years later).

Next up was the velcro for the door and top hatch, this was upgraded to magnetic strips (different polarisations) which both lock down everything, nothing is getting in, hermetically sealed (like a presidential Covid cavalcade…)

In terms of the fan, that worked perfectly in v1.0 so no changes were required there.

For heating however, I couldn’t find an old fashioned filament bulb so I needed to replace the LED one as it gave off no heat, and in a moment of clarity, my aged brain came up with the idea of a vivarium bulb. So after looking at various heat lamps (avoiding those bulbs in “Roxanne Red” – not the look you want in the spare bedroom!), I found a 50w ceramic bulb, which had the bonus of no light emission. Tried it out, burned my finger, so that worked!

Finally, I dug out an old dehumidifier my son used to use and plugged that in to take the moisture out of the room which would likely condensate and mold up the office.

In terms of the meat, I went to the local butchers this time. What a difference! As I cut the slabs, there was neither a vein nor a sinew in sight, marvelous!

I also changed the preparation mode too. I left the meat to chill for 12 hours in the fridge after applying the vinegar and dry rub, could not believe the amount of moisture that came out overnight.

So after wringing the last of the moisture out over the sink and via hand toweling, I applied one more layer of course salt and hooked them up (placing a metal tray in the bottom this time to prevent seepage on to the unit).

I think I will leave the meat longer this time, at least 7 days (SEVEN – one day for every Aston Villa goal last weekend against our arch nemesis), so that it becomes as dry as it can be to extend its lifespan. I’ll also use my new vacuum sealer straight away.

As for the smell, well there’s not too much I can do about that except to keep the office door shut and open the windows when I’m not in there, it is getting chilly outside now.

The whole of next batch will come with us to our off-grid cottage in Cornwall week after next, lock-down permitting. I’m not confident any will be returning with us!

Biltong Update…

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.

Biltong Build…

One of the more significant emotions following on from my paleo trials two weeks ago was a rekindling with my love affair for biltong. As mentioned in my last post, the price of biltong per gram is ridiculously high, the printer fluid of the meat world, mostly down to the time consuming process it takes to cure and dry the meats.

Naturally, if someone is making a significant profit in making such, it makes sense to consider making ones own to save money. I have the added incentive to move off-grid when I retire “soon” and as such I would not want to waste any resources.

So, armed with a cordless drill, bits of wood, screws, a perspex sheet, an old computer fan and a light-bulb, I spent a few hours yesterday creating my own “drying station”. The weather was nice and within minutes the form took shape, the quality of the end result surpassed my expectations and surprised the family too (me being an office worker).

With the box built, I took to the beef this morning, preparing the dry rub and the meat. Even the smell of the dry rub took my thoughts back to Cape Town, the mix of pepper, salt and coriander seeds instantly recognizable.

With the meat prepared, the only thing left to do was to hang it out to dry for 3-4 days in the box. After a rather heated discussion with the significant other on where I could store/dry it (on the basis that it may be a bit smelly), so for iteration one and the weather being good today and tomorrow, I’ll keep it outdoors and bring it in when the rains come in on Wednesday.

The proof is in the pudding of course, but it’s a good start and I have already picked up some probable improvements in terms of the preparations for next time (drying the meat out more).

The meat cost £16 for 2kgs, the equivalent biltong at the supermarket would cost £120, so with pepper, vinegar, salt and coriander seeds costing around £4, a cost saving of £100. Huge!

This time I used beef, but I’m off to the local butchers later to see if he can procure grass-fed beef and more importantly venison, which will be my meat of choice going forward.

My friend was totally shocked this weekend when I told him that I was thinking of taking up hunting, he thought it would be accompanied with a subscription to the Conservative Party. Allaying his fear, I advised him that a true hunter-gatherer needs to kill for food, never for sport. We have a gun club locally and hopefully next weekend will see the wife and I acquire some basic targeting skills.

We will of course need to find out where one can shoot deer and of course think about storage solutions, biltong box and freezer. Ethically its better (when comparing against mass produced meats), environmentally it’s better (when compared to the resources cows use and the waste products they produce in the process – not even close), cost wise its better (when compared to the equivalent meat at the butchers shop). The only real down side, of course, Walt Disney’s Bambi…