The Steaks Have Been Raised

Similar to American beef jerky, South African biltong is a great snack to have on the go – except it tastes way better.

By W Tan | 21 April, 2020 | #supermarketsunday, Features, Food
2020-04-21 12:37:31 2020-04-21 12:37:31

First things first, biltong is not jerky.

If you have tried jerky and hated its cardboard texture, give Baggie’s biltong a try – not doing so would be a big missed steak. While both are cured meats, jerkies are hard cured for 12 hours at 60 to 80̊C heat, which gives them the smoky flavour, but toughens up the meat. Biltongs, on the other hand, are literally just steaks slowly cured with air in a controlled drying box for five to six days.

Marinating the meat with biltong spices
Marinating the meat with biltong spices

At Baggie’s, pieces of beef marinated in biltong spices — comprising mostly coriander, pepper and salt – are hung in the curing chamber till about 50% dry, then taken out for slicing. Customers have a choice of flavours: original, peri-peri spiced, spicy, or extra (Carolina Reaper kind of) spicy.

The couple behind Baggie’s, Mark Turner and Ella Horswell, proudly introduce us to their custom-built biltong drying box in a corner of their shop at Fortune Centre: “It cost us $5,000 to build it!” Kept at a temperature of 16.5 to 23̊C, and humidity down from 95% to 65%, the drying box recreates the South African way of making biltong while still fulfilling the sanitation regulations in Singapore. “Singapore is a lot stricter in terms of hygiene as compared to how we traditionally make it in South Africa,” Turner chuckles.

Beef hung in the curing chamber
Beef hung in the curing chamber

The duo moved from London to Singapore in 2016, and wanted to replicate the biltong shopping experience from South Africa here. “We wanted to have the full glass perspective because in South Africa, buying meat is a social thing – particularly with biltong. People would walk into a biltong shop, have a chat with the butcher to see what they have got that day, and pick a particular piece of meat from behind the glass,” explains Turner, who was born and raised in South Africa.

While Baggie’s was initially targeted at the expat market when they launched in 2018, people in the fitness industry picked up on their flavourful cured meats very quickly. Turner and Horswell did their first test batch locally in September 2017 and thought “it’s going to be more of an expat thing,” but were not surprised to learn that many fitspos are having their biltongs as a post-workout snack. “It’s a clean, lean source of protein – at least 55% of it is protein – and we use only a fractional amount of brown sugar (less than 1% of the final product) to help with the curing process. So it’s a great zero to minimal carbohydrate option,” says Turner, adding that they use the top round cut of grass-fed beef from Australia.

Only selected cuts of beef are used
Only selected cuts of beef are used

Top round cuts, while perfect for biltongs because of their leanness, have not been always favoured. Back when Turner was young, he remembers his family slaughtering an entire cow to make biltongs, keeping only what they needed and putting the rest into deep freeze for future use. “Nobody taught me to make biltong; I just kind of knew. It’s not a complicated process; it’s not like baking a cake where you need just the right amount of flour and sugar, otherwise you’d get something that is not what you’re expecting. It’s a very hardy process.”

“Biltongs in South Africa have a cult following much like craft beers in other countries. Men have this need to create something with their hands and consume it,” adds Turner, who also has plans of bringing in alcohol and other artisanal products from South Africa to turn Baggie’s into a full-fledged deli.

An exotic deli in our little red dot? The steaks have never been higher.

Baggie's biltong, a clean, lean source of protein

Baggie’s cured meats are available at their Fortune Centre store and on RedMart.

A writer by profession, a gourmand by passion.