Heritage Day, affectionately dubbed braai day by most, is tomorrow. I could very easily write a long dissertation on whether or not distilling our entire incredibly complex heritage down to not only something as banal as cooking things on fire, but tying it directly to a culture that is still regarded by many as the oppressor, is probably problematic.
I am not going to though, for a few reasons: nobody cares, I have no better alternative solution (and I don’t believe in bitching if you can’t provide a possible solution), and most importantly I absolutely love Braaing. I could say Shisa Nyama but I would sound like a right royal pratt.
What I am getting at though ramblings aside is I love Flame cooked food! If I could I would literally cook everything over an open flame. I think we already have you pretty covered with some sure fire recipes to throw on the grill this Heritage day.
I want to take things to the weird side, and maybe throw in some braai tips that you can find all over the web, but may not have come across yet.
The first thing I think everyone needs to know is that you are making your fire wrong. Most people just chuck a pile of coal in the middle with some firelighters (or failing that half a bottle of meths – trust my eyebrows never a good idea). The more meticulous amongst you may make a perfect little pyramid in the middle of your Weber. The latter is better, but still not the best.
First off stop using coals, (unless you don’t have the luxury of time to let your wood burn down) a good hard wood is best, cut up into nice small chunks. The aim is control (this will be explained soon) and maximum flavour, and I don’t know about you but I like my food to have the smoky flavour of a fragrant wood like Kameel Doring, Mopani, and Sekelbos, not the vaguely chemically taste you get from the majority of coal. Not all coal is bad, but those weird perfectly shaped squares and triangles just don’t do it for me.
The next thing you should be doing is making a slope. This allows you to have one side hotter than the other. If there is one thing that I know, and anyone with access to the food channels on DSTV for that matter, is that cooking things on a low temperature for longer is better. You don’t get that that great caramelization, but this is what the hot side is for. Cook your steak to temperature on the cool side and finish on the hot end to get that perfect crust.
This works especially well in those half oil drum braais as you can have a nice shallow gradient for maximum temperature control. The middle is also the best area to cook your wors and chicken that benefit from a constant medium heat.
Fire perfection attained we can move on to what to throw on that sucker (beyond the obvious of course. I am going to assume you can cook a steak without cocking it up).
One of my favourite things to do on the fire is shellfish. grab a whole bunch of hard herbs like rosemary, thyme, lemongrass, and bay, tie them up give them a quick dunk in some water and throw them on the coals, pop your shellfish over, and cover with a lid of sorts (I use a big heat tempered pyrex). It will literally take a few minutes for those babies to open up for you. Throw ’em in some garlicky, chilli, lemon butter and you’re sorted. Just make sure you get big meaty shellfish. Small clams etc tend to dry up in almost an instant. Mussels and prawns work best I think.
Fish with the skin on also loves this pseudo hot smoke method. The best is probably something you would be happy eating raw like salmon or trout. Again get some smoky herbage going and pop down your fish. cook it skin side down for a bit longer than on the flesh side. The time is hard to estimate because it depends on your fire and the thickness of your fish. I have never had to cook mine for more than 5min in total though so use that as an upper limit. The aim is to get it medium rare so you have a nice deep blush in the centre. Then here’s the trick peel the skin off when it’s done and pop it back on the grill to crisp up. break up the fish into pieces dress it with some olive oil, lemon zest salt pepper and whatever your preferred herb is (I am a massive coriander and Fennel fan), chop up the crispy skin and sprinkle over the top.
A handy little tip for the above, or any dressing really is that the oil/butter/whatever should be in a 3:1 ratio to the acid.
The next two recipes come from the now defunct blog thefoodie.co.za, but since he is no longer active I feel no shame in stealing them to share with you, because the biggest shame would be for the world not know about the greatness that is his beer & harissa chicken, and the most gorgeous ribs you will ever taste (and what is a braai without ribs).
Sex mouth ribs
(a friend actually told me he was dying from sex-mouth when I first made these)
1 cup tomato sauce
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup Worcester sauce
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup orange juice
1/2 cup dark rum.
Squeeze of some lime juice
splash of olive oil.
Mix all the ingredients
Now coat the ribs (which should either be pre-boiled or partly cooked in a medium-heat oven) in this and let sit for an hour or three. Then braai over the cooler half of the braai, basting regularly, until the meat almost falls off the bone.
Best Braai Roast Chicken
1 Free-Range chicken, spatchcocked
1 Brewers & Union Berne Amber Lager (IPAs are also killer)
Tbsp green chilli
3 Tbsp harissa paste
5 Tbsp honey
salt & pepper
1/2 handful fresh coriander, finely chopped
1/2 handful fresh parsley, finely chopped
1 lime & 1 lemon
make a mix from the garlic, ginger, chilli along with a good dose of salt and pepper in a bowl.
Cut your chicken in half, breasts joined in the middle, and press flat. Salt and pepper both sides all over, then take the above mix and spread it under the skin that covers the breasts & legs, saving a little bit of mix.
Put the chicken in a dish, breast-side up, and empty the Berne all over it. Then sprinkle the remaining garlic-etc mix over the top along with 1/2 the harissa paste, paprika and cumin. Let this sit for at least an hour or so. The longer the better.
add the chicken so it’s not on direct heat, then if it’s a Weber, put the lid on to smoke it nicely. Turn it a few times over 30 minutes, basting with the beer.
Leave the chicken to cook, head to the kitchen and reduce the beer mixture in a pan until it’s about 1/4 it’s original volume. Once it’s there, add the honey and remaining harissa paste and cook a few minutes longer then remove. Take this outside and baste the chicken a few times, turning, until it’s ready (i.e. nicely browned, cooked through).
Remove chicken and cut on a board into pieces. Pour reduced beer sauce over the top, squeeze lemon & lime and then sprinkle with coriander & parsley and serve, with some more Beer.
Written by Alex Bernatzky