Food & Wine
Shisa nyama, braai or ukosa,
Meat lovers are rushing to local butchery’s to gear up for National Braai Day on Monday.
We all have a secret ingredient or two we add to our marinade.
And we all have our own preferred way of preparing a delicious piece of steak.
Jan Braai (real name Jan Scannell) is synonymous with braai and he is the man who united all South Africans around simple wood fires for one day each September.
Here are some tips from the man himself:
The steak should be at room temperature by the time it goes onto the fire. If it was in a fridge, take it out well in advance, and leave it in the shade or indoors.
You need copious amounts of extremely hot coals. If, and this is preferable, you are making a real fire with real wood, make a big fire from the outset. Do not make a medium sized fire and add more wood later.
By the time the second batch of wood has burned out, the coals of the first batch will be half dead. Once the meat goes onto the fire, the process will be over quickly, so if you want to stand around the fire and discuss life with your guests for a few hours before you eat, make a medium sized fire by all means. But when you intent to braai, add lots of wood, wait till its burned out, and braai.
The exact height of your grid is not important. Anything between 5 and 15 centimetres is fine.
Steaks should be done medium rare.
If you really prefer your steaks rare and aren’t just saying it to try and sound rougher than everybody else ordering medium rare, then you should not be ordering rare steaks anyhow. There are two great dishes for you to try. Steak Tartar, and Beef Carpaccio.
If you prefer your steaks medium, then start buying better quality steaks, learn how to braai them better, and acquire the acquired taste of enjoying them medium rare. If you prefer your steaks medium well or well done, then why exactly are you reading this? You are surely quite capable of messing up meat all by yourself.
Take the time when the steaks go onto the grid and take them off after about 7 minutes. Steaks cut to a thickness of 2,5cm to 3cm, braaied on extremely hot coals and a 10cm grid height take about 7 minutes in total to become medium rare. After 2 minutes turn the steaks. After another 2 minutes, turn them again; now turn after 1:30 more minutes, and then a final 1:30. They are now ready.
Use braai tongs, not a fork, to turn the meat. A fork will make holes in the meat, and you might lose some juice.
After the first turn of the meat, you may start salting, spicing or basting the meat. Adding salt before this might cause the salt to draw out some of the moisture in the meat. This is a high school science concept known as osmoses.
Rubbing salt or spice into the meat shortly before the braai will not draw out any significant amount of moisture and is thus fine. There is a risk that some ingredients in the spice will burn on the extremely hot coals though. Adding salt before the braai does not make the meat tough. Buying bad quality meat makes the meat tough.
If you are using a closed grid (toeklaprooster) then all the steaks will obviously be turned at the same time. If you are turning the steaks one by one then turn them in the order that they went onto the grill and also remove them from the grid in that order.
Meat needs to “rest” a bit after the braai, before you eat it. This gives the juices in the meat the opportunity to settle down, and not all run out when you cut the meat.
What you need to watch out for when resting meat is that it does not end up cold by the time you eat it. There are two easy ways to counter this problem. Heat the bowl that you are placing the meat into when taking them from the fire; and heat the plates you will be eating the steaks from.
Do not put the steaks in an aluminium braai bowl with lots of other meat and into an oven where they will steam cook for another hour whilst some fool is braaing his frozen chicken. Your steaks will be ruined by the time you eat them.
So whether you call it shisa nyama, braai or ukosa, September 24 is day where South Africans, cross race, language, region and religion share one common heritage.