/ 24 September 2023

Viva the basic bro of braaiing

Fine food: ‘Blackouts and Boerewors’ serves up more than wors, such as the mega steak roll with peppercorn sauce

Entrusting me with the important task of reviewing a book about braaiing — to appear on the weekend of Heritage Day (somewhat contentiously but commonly referred to as “Braai Day”) — is certainly an error. And the confession I am about to make will definitely have me hauled over the coals by countless backseat braaiers: those individuals who are always there to offer an opinion on your cooking technique while swigging on a can of Castle Lite.

I grew up in Durban at a time when lingering colonial tendencies meant that large chunks of meat cooked outside in the tropical heat wasn’t on the weekly menu. There wasn’t a traditional male figure in my family to light up the coals for a Sunday braai. Besides, my weekends were spent at the beach catching waves and, less successfully, trying to catch the attention of girls in bikinis.

The high point of my braaiing experience during those years was when some friends and I rented a beach cottage on the South Coast. Fuelled by several beers too many and driven by hunger we decided that making a braai was a good idea. We couldn’t find any braaiing equipment so we gathered together some random rocks and bricks and fetched the grid from the oven in the kitchen.

To this day we still reminisce about that culinary adventure.

Smoky steak tacos with chipotle esquites salad

Many, many years later I still don’t really know the correct level of heat the coals need to be at before you can gooi on the chicken or the steak. 

I have never owned a Weber. My braai equipment consists of a rickety metal stand consumed by rust and with a grid that always seems to need a good cleaning. My tongs are shamefully small and incapable of coping with a coil of boerewors. I don’t even own an apron with one of those cutesy slogans printed on it.

There are just two items on my list of meat needed for a perfect braai. Boerewors — I know enough never to be tempted by the cheaper items on the supermarket shelves labelled “wors” — and lamb chops.

The boerewors must be nicely charred on the outside but still juicy in the middle before it is transferred directly from the coals and onto a pre-buttered soft white roll. A quick application of your condiment of choice — mustard, tomato sauce or both — and then take a large bite while the boerewors is still hot enough to burn your mouth. The perfect boerie roll.

The lamb chops must be thinly cut, perhaps doused in a store-bought marinade, and then cooked over coals hot enough to make the thin layer of fat on the edge of the chop crisp and crunchy when bitten into.

A good potato salad (easy on the mayo) is always welcome, although if there is a guest who can cook pap then that is a bonus. The supermarkets offer a great selection of chakalakas in a can. I go for the hot version, and this gives you a chance to chuck in a can of creamy corn as well.

Chorizo butter prawns

If there is time and energy then some potatoes, onions and even some butternut might be wrapped in foil and buried in the coals. And if you really want to impress the family then whip up a three-bean salad.

And as for what alcohol should be consumed at these occasions, I really can’t bring myself to stand around a smoky fire discussing the merits of obscure brands of craft beer. My friend Sidney, the “chicken wings champion”, recently spoiled us with a crate of Stella Artois quarts. 

Sid is an even more of a hardline stick-to-the-basics braaier. His earliest memory of braaiing is being the child tasked with finding the wood and the grid from an old fridge to hastily cook the liver of a recently slaughtered beast. The only addition being a small packet of salt bought at the spaza shop.

No doubt the braai brigade will be outraged by this simplistic notion of such a revered cultural activity, but I’ll take the heat. For me “meat on coals equals a meal” is a winning formula. After all, not for nothing are all those thousands of venues in townships across South Africa known as Shisa Nyama — “burn meat”.

So, as I said at the start of this brazen acknowledgement of my braai limitations, I am not the right person to review a book called Blackouts and Boerewors by Karl Tessendorf and Greg Gilowey (Penguin) that promises “forty bright braai recipes for dark times”.

And, yes, it is packed with ambitious recipes to attempt using coals when the electricity is off. The trouble is when my area is hit with that dreaded six to 8:30 loadshedding slot I head to the kitchen and switch on my gas stove. I don’t really want to go outside to get the coals going in darkness. And I certainly don’t want to be stuck out there making “miso butter mussels with gremolata and toasted ciabatta” or “roast beetroot with lemon labneh and pistachios” or “charred greens with labneh, smoor, dukkah and parmesan”. 

It just doesn’t sound right to say “braai” and then in the next breath, “I will be making ‘blackened Cajun tuna with braaied rotis and green chili’, with a side of ‘braaied cabbage with miso butter and dukkah’ and finished off with ‘coconut panna cotta with grilled pineapple and toasted coconut’.”

But this is just a dedicated member of the lazy braaiers’ club talking. No doubt many enthusiastic keepers of the coals will be ripping open a new bag of top-grade charcoal and planning which craft beer to drink while labouring to perfect the “mojo potjie pulled pork with yoghurt flatbreads”.

Live and let braai, I say.