I recently came into some biltong from friends who were very dubious about it. (Give it to John. He’ll eat anything.) Actually, there was no call for alarm. Biltong is just a South African dried meat. Its name comes from the Dutch words Bil (buttocks) and tong (tongue) which, I grant you, is potentially off-putting. Biltong has more moisture than beef jerky, and thus is much more flexible than beef jerky, which you probably have had; but it’s not quite as flexible as chipped beef, which you may have had on a shingle while in the US Army. The flavor has been described as a combination of beef and prosciutto. That would be a somewhat unusual prosciutto, but I can’t offer a better description.
By now I have everyone in South Africa mad at me. According to this, biltong is probably the most popular food in South Africa, eaten “nearly everywhere by nearly everyone.” So let me say that I think it tastes pretty good. It’s certainly better than beef jerky, which isn’t bad but gets old pretty quickly. And I recently ordered creamed chipped beef on toast at a restaurant in Staunton, Virginia, and really enjoyed it. As I say, it tastes pretty good, but I think it is what I call a culturally acquired taste. There are some foods whose appeal is much greater in the “home” country than anywhere else. Vegemite leaps to mind. I hear that peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, of all of life’s wonders, aren’t appreciated abroad.
Biltong is very versatile. I found some recipes using biltong here and here. As you can see, various breads and muffins use a powdered form of biltong, which is interesting. I have a sliced form of biltong, so that’s out. Also, it’s cold out, so soup is the way to go.
My first obstacle is that the recipes use metric measures, and, as Barbie reportedly has observed, “Math is hard.” So let’s try this. We’ll need:
one several ounce packet of sliced biltong (available at Whole Foods)
4 T butter
4-6 leeks, white and light green parts only, diced
4 cloves garlic, finely diced
2 tsp freshly ground nutmeg
2 tsp freshly ground coriander
1 T freshly ground black pepper
4 Yukon Gold potatoes, diced
salt and pepper
six or seven cups chicken broth
1/2 cup heavy cream
Melt the butter and add the diced leeks. After one minute or so, add the nutmeg, coriander and black pepper. After another minute, add the garlic. Let it cook a minute or two, and add the biltong. Stir everything for a minute or two and add the potatoes and the salt. Stir. After a couple of minutes, add the broth. Bring the broth to a boil, reduce the heat to a simmer, and let it cook for 15 or 20 minutes. The potatoes should now be soft enough for you to reduce the heat slightly, and for you to blend in the potatoes with an immersion blender. (If you use a regular blender, let it cool for a bit and blend at least partially uncovered in batches. If that’s too much trouble, have someone film you while you blend it all at once, hot and covered.) If it’s too thick, add some more stock. Bring the soup back to a simmer briefly. Remove from the heat for a pause to let it stop boiling, and then stir in the cream. Serve with crusty bread and a salad.
Or you can do the math and follow one of the tried and true recipes. Right now I have a freezer full of soups, and a lot f leftover shrimp creole and red beans and rice in the refrigerator; but I’ll get to this before the winter’s out. Remind me. Or tell me what I need to change.