South Africans LOVE meat – whether it’s charcoaled to death on the coals, or still dripping in blood – on any given evening (for every evening is a braai-able evening) you are sure to see the telltale drift of smoke over the rooftops.
No other nation can do a braai like we can. We don’t do Barbies – that’s a doll for heaven sake and made of plastic, so, no, not edible! And Barbeque, well that’s far too long & complicated to spell and BBQ is like the sauce you get in a plastic bottle which no self respecting Braai master would touch with a barge pole – or tongs for that matter.
This is not a sexist matter, but the truly great Braaiers are men. The skill and dexterity they show when presented with building a fire, stoking the coals and cooking the
meat borders on eye watering perfection.
Consider the skills involved: First the meat needs to be bought. Worsies (little sausages), Karoo oysters (sheep’s balls wrapped in fat), Skilpadjies (sheep’s liver wrapped in neckfat), boerrie (spiced sausage, South African style), tjops (chops), sosaties (meat on a skewer), vleis (meat). And, second, and probably most importantly, beer must be purchased to assist with the cooking.
So there is a lot of pressure.
On the any given evening, when the family gets together and some mates are invited round, the men gather around the braai area with the various tools of their trade, generally a braai grid, tongs and some beers. The women relax as it’s their “night off”. No cooking the meat for them, it’s not so much that they aren’t trustworthy, after all they prepare perfectly adequate food for the rest of the week! This is different.
As they are having the night off, the women ensure that their braai masters are well hydrated with bottles of chilled beer. Which they have thoughtfully unpacked from the car and stacked in the fridge earlier in the day to ensure the temperature is just right. And also, because it’s their night off, they’ve prepared the marinade for the meat and have it all in the pans covered with clean cloths ensuring the meat is at the correct room temperature for cooking.
The wood is lit: – there are some purists who just do wood, others who just use charcoals, and still others who use both. The main point is, that the heat of the braai is of extreme importance to the success of the braai. It’s not merely a matter of throwing the meat
on in a haphazard manner, it takes skill and technique to get the meat out in
the right order of the fire’s heat.
Because it’s quite a process, what with building the fire, getting the utensils out, shooting the breeze – the actual cooking doesn’t start till quite late. So to keep the wolf from the door, or the children from fainting with hunger, the women will have made some roosterkoek, which are dough balls dry roasted on the fire, and then filled with butter and cheese & tomato & onion (if you like). And the good thing is the men like it too and nibble away on the ones the kids don’t eat, so nothing is wasted.
Once the fire is ready, the appetite-whetters – Karoo Oysters and Skilpadjies – are grilled with a precision which breathtaking. As they are lifted from the grid, one of the women will bring out the chopping board with coarse salt & a sharp knife, and the braai-master will slice the delicacies for everyone to dip into the salt and snack on. They are truly delicious.
Then it’s the turn of the sausages – the worsies are for the kids, because they are quick to do, and then the boerewors gets laid down in reverent coils on the grid sizzling in their skins. The flame get’s quite high with the fat from the sausage and beer is sprinkled over the meat and the coals to temper the heat.
It’s important to keep an eye on the meat at this stage because dry sausage isn’t nice, so the women are very helpful here bringing out the dishes and taking the meat back to the kitchen to keep in the warming drawer. And as they are already in the kitchen, they get the children’s sausages sorted out and put together the three bean salad (butter beans, sugar beans & green beans); a leafy green salad with avocado, feta cheese, a bowl of cocktail tomatoes and another of grated carrot, pineapple & raisins.
And now it’s time for the Chops – lamb chops are a sine qua non at a braai. Tasty, meaty with a hint of rosemary. Again, it’s very important not to have them overdone, a hint of pink in the centre and they are perfection.
So, while the Braaimasters are making sure the chops are not in any danger, and because they aren’t doing anything else, the women will set the table, check on the pap & sous (cooked mealie meal with a tomato & onion sauce) and take the potato & leek bake out of the oven so it can cool slightly.
With the chops and the sausage ready, the piece de resistance is about to be grilled – the slabs of rump or sirloin (depending on your taste). It’s a very tricky business, this last leg, as everyone likes their meat grilled in a different way – the Braaimaster calls around and gets the orders and begins his Herculean task of getting it “right”!
The women have now set all the food out, and one of them has cunningly remembered to make Garlic Bread and even more cunningly ensured that, as some people ‘don’t do garlic’, that there are plain French Loaves too.
And finally the last of the meat arrives to ooh’s and ahh’s and the Braai master sits at the head of the table and everyone applauds the great feast he has prepared for them. The wine is opened and more chilled beers bought to the table. And the conversation flows, and the evening slides gently onwards.
And that is why a vegetarian should always go to a braai.