Braai, the beloved country


The quintessential culinary South African experience must surely be the braai. With our sunny skies and laid-back outdoor lifestyle, this ritual has become a tradition.

Many a South African boy has been trained in this manly art and unique father-son bonds are established round the braai fire. Most dads have their own tips on how to make the fire and braai the meat and this information is passed down religiously to younger generations.

Here are some of the tips I have inherited:

To achieve the perfect fire one should be patient and wait for a good bed of coals with no tongues of flame that can singe or spoil the meat. Always have some water handy to kill boisterous flames.

The best wood to use are vine stumps and even ‘mielie’ husks, but there is nothing wrong with conventional charcoal which gives off good heat, although once glowing should not be disturbed. The best method for packing the coals is in a pyramid-form with bricks of Blitz in the middle.

Heat should be evenly distributed over the whole grill area. The correct heat has been attained when you can hold your hand ± 15cm above the grid and count to ten without roasting your hand. The temperature can be regulated by moving the grid up or down. Best is to start high and move down as the coals cool down.

Meat for the braai should of course be of the best quality. Use tender, ripened cuts. The outer rind of chops should be removed before cooking as the dripping fat causes the fire to flame up.

A healthy alternative for beef is ostrich. It almost tastes like beef but is much lower in fat!

Do not use a fork as this will release the meat’s juices, silly! A tong is the right implement.

Salt meat, chicken and fish after braai-ing as salt draws out the juices and will dry it out.

Cook meat in the correct order: Chicken, sausages or ‘wors’ should be cooked first over low heat. Steaks and chops should be cooked rapidly over high heat.

Marinate meat the night before if possible, this also helps to tenderise it. Meat should be room temerature for cooking, so remove from fridge when the fire is in construction.

I have accumulated some ideas for my kind of braai (served with my kind of guy):

Thai pumpkin cakes

Give pumpkin cakes [“pampoenkoekies”] a Thai edge for a tasty starter or side dish.

500 ml cooked pumpkin, mashed

50 g cake flour

10 ml baking powder

5 ml dry ginger

30 ml sugar

salt to taste

I egg, beaten

Oil for frying

2 red peppers, deseeded and diced into blocks

50 ml fresh coriander, finely chopped

Mix the pumpkin, flour, baking powder, ginger, sugar and salt in a mixing bowl. Add the egg and mix to a smooth paste. Add the chillies and coriander and mix well. Heat the oil over medium heat and scoop a few tablespoons of the dough into the oil. Fry the cakes until golden brown on both sides. Serve with fresh coriander and a bowl of chutney or sweet chilli sauce.

Serves 4

Recipe from: PRESTO!

Classic Potato Gratin

1 clove of garlic, bruised

1 kg potatoes, peeled and sliced as thinly as possibile

1 cup grated Cheddar cheese [or blue cheese for a richer dish]

250 ml fresh cream

salt to taste

Preheat the oven to 180 °C [350 °F]. Rub the bottom and sides of a rectangular oven dish with the garlic. Place a third of the potatoes in a layer in the dish. Sprinkle a third of the cheese and a bit of salt on top. Place a second and third layer of potatoes and cover each with cheese and salt. Pour the cream over. Cover with foil [shiny side inside] and bake for 50 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for 20 minutes until the cheese is bubbly and melted. Grill for 2 minutes for a crispier top. Serve immediately.

Serves 4

Recipe from: PRESTO!

Baked butternut

Cut two butternuts in half and remove the seeds. Mix 2 cloves of crushed garlic with 100 ml soft butter. Divide the garlic butter and put into the hollows of each butternut half. Season with your favourite seasoning, wrap in foil and braai in the coals for about 30 minutes or until tender.

Alternatively just get the Woolies version.

An alternative for garlic bread:

Slice a French loaf or ciabatta at 3 cm intervals, cut to the base of the loaf, but not right through. Mix together 50 ml soft butter with 50 ml basil pesto. Spread the mixture into each slit. Add a slice of Mozzarella cheese to each slit. Wrap in foil and braai on the grill for about 10 minutes on each side. Serve with fresh basil.

A classic Greek salad always goes down well, but feel free to serve as many salads as possible.

Happy braai-ing!

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