Make braai day a gas

2011-09-16 08:21

It’s a well-known scenario not unique to South Africa: A group of friends and family milling around the backyard on a sunny afternoon while juicy steaks sizzle on the braai.

But in SA, we love our chargrilled meat so much we’ve adopted National Heritage day on September 24 as braai day.

Usually, I leave the braai duties to “the men” who treat it as a religious ritual. This usually involves one head chef with the rest of the guys cheering him on when not giving unsolicited advice.

This year, I have decided to take matters – or rather tongs – into my own hands and learn the art of charring from someone who knows his red meat like his palm: co-owner of The Local Grill in Parktown North, Joburg, Steve Maresch.

Roping in my colleague Lesley Mofokeng – who admits to being “a lazy braaier” – we head for the restaurant, prepared to get down and dirty in soot. And boy, are we in for a few surprises.

First, there is no charcoal anywhere.

“There’s a whole new movement of braaiing with gas. It is more efficient and since natural resources are on the decline, people are making more of an environmentally conscious choice to use gas,” says Maresch.

When I point out that gas won’t quite give the meat that distinct wood smoke-infused taste, Maresch immediately tells us it can be faked.

“All it takes are wood chips to create the wood smoke,” he says, throwing a handful of chips in his fancy gas griller.

The most glaring obstacle that inexperienced braai hosts face is the cut of meat. Maresch points out the best thing to do here is to consult your local butcher.

With cuts like rump, fillet and sirloin to choose from, Maresch warns: “The more discerning beef eater may prefer beef on the bone, such as T-bone or wing rib.”

He recommends that the cut be thick to make it possible to cook slowly from the outside.

As for boerewors, it’s also not a one-size-fits-all situation.

There are different types of braai wors, which cook in different ways.

“There’s mixed wors which can contain meat like pork, lamb and beef, so it’s best to know the food preference of your guests. These sausages are tasty because they bring out different flavours, but I personally prefer 100% beef boerewors,” he says.

Now, like any braai master will attest, the secret to a great piece of meat is in the marinade... right?
“I don’t recommend marinade because it masks the real flavour of the meat,” says Maresch, shattering another braai rule and flipping the script on us.

“Rather season it with salt, pepper and herbs to enhance the flavour.”

But after seeing the slightly disappointed look on my face, and the subtle pressure, he relents.

“The best way to create a marinade or basting, is to make it sweet and sour. For the sweet part, you can use syrup or honey, some soy sauce; I even use Coca-Cola.

“Mrs Ball’s Chutney is the perfect ingredient for a marinade, some Worcester sauce and herbs,” he says.

But before you get carried away, remember that it’s not only meat lovers who attend braais.

“You have to make provisions for those who don’t eat meat because braaiing is not all about meat. You can also create delicious braai dishes with only vegetables,” adds Maresch.

Next, the chef shows us how to prepare salads and side dishes and, like the meat, they are also not too complicated.

“Pap, polenta or baked potatoes are always the best options. You can also include corn on the cob. Don’t forget to par-boil the vegetables before you throw them on the braai stand,” he says.

As for that staple chakalaka, Maresch suggests we give it a rest as it’s just another side dish.

“Most of the food we have prepared so far is high in nutritional value because we didn’t complicate it, and we also used natural seasonings like rosemary, thyme and olive oil,” says Maresch.

He also gives a great tip to add flavour to vegetables.

“Mix some olive oil or melted butter with herbs to give the vegetables some moisture. Use the branch of the rosemary as your brush and wrap them in foil before placing them on the braai,” he adds.

In the end, Maresch has created a gourmet chef version of a braai which – while it was extremely delicious – will not go down well with those who believe that a good braai is supposed to be a messy affair of marinades and side dishes.

As for me, I prefer this version that’s sure to keep my braai outfit clean and leave me smelling like delicious herbs rather than fire smoke.

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