By MH Staff - Posted on 4th December 2014
Respect your ingredients, develop your palate and don’t fiddle
Moderate heat is better. If you’re using wood or charcoal, let the flames burn down before putting your meat on the grill. And please don’t use starter fuel or charcoal unless you particularly enjoy the taste of lighter fluid.
Before braaiing, allow your meat to come to near room temperature. I’m not suggesting you leave it festering in the sun for two hours. Remove it from the fridge and place it on a plate up to half an hour in advance to take the chill out of it. Just keep it covered so insects don’t crap on it.
To impart a delicious but subtle flavour to the meat, lightly brush on a mixture of olive oil, crushed garlic and fresh thyme. For tougher cuts, try a mixture of olive oil, crushed garlic, ginger, soya sauce and star anise. At the very least, rub your steak well with freshly crushed black peppercorns and sea salt or kosher salt. Don’t use iodised table salt, which tends to increase salinity with cooking.
Lightly brush the grill with olive oil so the meat won’t stick. (The best time to do this is just before placing the meat on the braai; otherwise the oil may burn off.)
Your coals need not be screaming hot, but the metal grill itself should be. When you put the meat down, it should sizzle, but not cause leaping flames.
Don’t poke your meat with a fork. Always use tongs to move it. And don’t ever press meat with a spatula to speed up the cooking process. That’s the good stuff you’re squeezing into the coals! Be gentle. And the golden rule: don’t peek. Don’t cut into the steak to check its progress.
Use your hands. Press an index finger into the steak gently to determine rare, medium rare and so on. A rare steak will feel as soft as the skin between your thumb and forefinger when your hand is held loose. Press the same area while making a loose fist: that’s how a medium-rare steak feels to the touch. Making a tight fist gives the feel of a well-done steak, but I wouldn’t advise going there. You want to remove the meat from the grill when it’s just a bit underdone. Place it on a plate and allow it to rest for three to five minutes before touching it. The meat will continue to cook and, more significantly, the juices, left undisturbed and unmolested, will redistribute through the resting meat. Do this and you’ll notice a huge improvement in the way the red at the centre gradually gives way to fading hues of pink emanating out towards the dark crust. A note about bones: if the meat is on a bone, as in the case of a chop or T-bone, be aware that bone conducts heat into meat, so trim your cooking time accordingly.
Nothing will set you apart from the herd quicker than the ability to braai vegetables masterfully. Thinly sliced courgette, squash, fennel and red onion all take well to the braai when seasoned and brushed lightly with olive oil. Try leeks and spring onions, too. The trick is to blanch them, which speeds up the cooking process. Dip them in boiling water until soft but not discoloured (about 20 seconds or more depending on the size of the vegetables), then “shock” them in ice water. You can leave them in the water until braaiing. Grilled mealies are perhaps the finest summer option. Just leave it in the husk, soak for a few minutes, then grill until the husk is charred and the kernels soft. Peel, season, butter and eat.
To get those cool, professional-looking sear marks, cook one side of the steak halfway to its desired doneness, then rotate it 45 degrees and let it go the rest of the way. Repeat on the other side.
Feel free to fail. It’s the way I learnt. It’s the way cooks have mastered their craft through centuries. And it’s a hell of a lot of fun.