Monday, 3 March 2008

Making the Biltong Bell

You may be asking yourself "What is biltong ?". If not then go ahead and skip ahead to where I'm not explaining what biltong is.
Biltong is (according to Wikipedia) a kind of dried meat that originated in South Africa. The word biltong is from the Dutch bil (rump) and tong (strip or tongue). It can be made from beef, game meats and a multitude of other meats including venison, ostrich and fish. It's as tasty as hell and as addictive as crack (it doesn't actually say that on Wikipedia, but it should). Now you can introduce your friends to it and become a seedy biltong dealer. Perhaps if you're already a conventional drug dealer, you could add biltong as an interesting and potentially profitable sideline - "adding value" if you like.

I was introduced to biltong on a long, tedious, 10 hour trip to Sunderland. Carl is a web developer extraordinaire and he showed me his biltong box before we left. It was the only thing which made the journey bearable.

This is only a description of how I did it. I've never made biltong before and I haven't been tutored 'grasshopper style' by a wizened oriental-South African.

The box itself is fairly basic - a box containing a lightbulb and some ventilation.

Why make an oven from a monitor ?

Apart from the fact that it looks cool,there's a few other advantages too.

* Everyone has a spare, dead one lying around somewhere.
* The plastic used is designed to withstand a fair amount of heat (up to 60°C / 140°F).
* They have plenty of ventilation.
* You don't have to fanny around making your own box.

I'll come to the recipe I used later, but first - the box.
Firstly, take your monitor. Clean it (I didn't do this first actually, but I'd advise it, as it was a PITA doing it later)

I used a Packard Bell, but I assume any will do. I don't need to remind you that a flat screen is not the ideal choice (nor is leaving it plugged in while working).

Next, open it up and discard all the pointless electronics that a 8 year old worked hard to assemble.

My monitor had pretty uneven insides as you can see, so I cut a simple timber insert for a base.

Next, you need a hole to bring your lightbulb in through. I had an old lamp (which you can see in the background of the first picture) which I butchered for the cable and the bulb holder. I cut a hole with a drill attachment that I don't know the name of, in the lower rear of the casing.

Here you'll need to improvise as your lamp may differ from mine. Basically, find a way to keep it secure inside the box, so it doesn't fall over and set light to your box somehow, burn your house down and leave you destitute. That would be a bad thing.

I used a 60W bulb by the way.

Using adhesive spray, find some way to cover the base and sides with tin foil, to help reflect any warmth from the lightbulb back onto the meat.

Here's the foil on one side

And on all sides, including the base

As the glass front is all part of the CRT, you'll need to replace it. I had some opaque acrylic-type sheet left over, but most DIY stores will probably stock it. I ran a bead of kitchen sealant around the edge to stick it in place, then added weight to it to help it fit the curvature of the screen edge.

The final part is a rod to hang your meat from (I also added a hinge to the front section of the screen). A simple metal rod I had lying around was ok, but again I'm sure any DIY store will provide. I plan to add more later to satiate my yearning for biltong but for now, one is sufficient.

Now we come to the product itself.
Ingredients I used were : Beef skirt, Rock Salt, Apple-Cider Vinegar, Coriander, Ground Pepper and Paprika

Good quality meat is best, although Pineapplecharm has had success with cheaper produce squashed between roasting tins to get rid of the excess moisture over a few days first. I bought Aberdeen Angus beef skirt, from a Farmer's Market (Bassingthorpe Beef from Grantham were the supplier) at £7.75 per kg. I only bought about 400g for the first test run. A few quid seemed pretty good value to me.

Step 1 is salt. Cut into strips and add plenty of rock salt. I've read that table salt sticks to the meat all over and makes it too salty. Leave for approx. 1 hour.

Step 2 is seasoning. While the salt is getting into the meat, grind some coriander, together with paprika and pepper.

When the hour is up, scrape off most of the salt and dip each of the strips in a bowl of Apple-Cider vinegar for a second or two. Coat the meat in the seasoning mix as evenly as possible.

To hang the meat, I used paperclips to skewer it. Apparently it gives a bit of a metallic taste at that point, so remember to cut it off after.

Hang it up.

And switch on the light.

Go away and leave it alone for a while. I left this for about 3 days. It's supposed to be tough when it comes out though opinion differs as to the relative merits of wet or dry biltong.

Cut it up and serve to your friends. At this point, I'd recommend that you be very clear to people that this is essentially raw meat, and that you explain how you've made it. Legal action among friends is such a dirty process.

Pretty much the whole idea of biltong is that it would last for ages in hot weather, preserved perfectly as carrying a fridge on horseback is generally impractical.

In theory, in a box it will last for quite some time. In practice, it just never seems to last that long. I have it next to my desk while I'm working and some days it just kind of sits there whispering gently in my ear like a tender lover keen for me to devour. Other days it screams at me like a crazed slut, demanding that my will power collapse. Either way, it's consumed greedily.

So go, build and enjoy.

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