Stuffed beef fillet on the braai for IMBB#6


Well, another not-particularly-summery Sunday in London has passed – but at least it stayed dry and the sun did shine at intervals, so it was possible for us to do a proper barbecue for IMBB6! As I said at the time when the date was announced, I was positively thrilled to discover that the theme chosen by the crew at Too Many Chefs for the July edition of Is My Blog Burning? was barbecues and grilling. At last – a quintessentially South African cooking activity and one with which my husband could join in! Let me start by explaining that South Africans do not barbecue – they BRAAI (say “bry”, to rhyme with eye)! This is short for the Afrikaans word “braaivleis” (say “bry-flays”) which literally means a meat-grill. Incidentally, the word braai can mean a number of things: it can be a verb as in “please braai my steak for me”; a noun referring to the barbecue structure as in “I’m going to do my chicken on the braai”; or a noun referring to the entire social occasion as in “We are having a braai on Sunday”. But the South African braai goes way beyond linguistics or a simple cooking method – it has been elevated to the status of a social and cultural institution! (Few South Africans will forget the 1970s advertising slogan of “braaivleis, rugby, sunny skies and Chevrolet” used to sum up the quintessential white South African lifestyle…) Formerly the preserve of white and mainly Afrikaans South Africans, the braai today crosses all cultural and socio-economic barriers and is universally loved – and given the South African climate, it is an activity that we indulge in all year round, with gusto. Traditionally, the braai was the cooking method of the Dutch pioneers, or Voortrekkers, who travelled inland from the Cape Colony into the unknown wilderness and had no choice but to shoot fresh meat and cook it on open fires. So today, there are still braai puritans who insist that to be a “proper” braai, the meat has to be cooked on an open wood fire (doringhout or rooikrans will do nicely). The making of this fire is usually a skill passed down from father to son – how to pile the wood, where to put the newspaper or kindling and of course, how to tell when the fire is ready for cooking, which usually involves counting how long you can leave your hand above the coals before yanking it away in pain (I’m told anything below about 8 seconds is too hot). And woe betide anyone who casts aspersions on a man’s ability to make a good braai fire – this is tantamount to questioning his manhood… The fire is traditionally started hours before any cooking is due to be done, using about 10 times more wood than is, strictly speaking, necessary. This is the “kuiervuur” (literally “socialising fire”) which is built purely as a backdrop against which the braaiers can stand and chat about rugby (or braaing techniques!) until the requisite amount of Castle Lager has been consumed!   These braai puritans also have fixed ideas on the type of structure to be used for a braai and will pooh-pooh the idea of Weber charcoal grills or fancy grills as “for sissies”. The Real Braaier has been known to make a fire in an old wheelbarrow or in an old washing machine drum – the drum’s little holes provide the correct degree of protection and ventilation! There are also traditional conventions as to what can go on a braai. Traditionally, braai food consisted of lamb or pork chops, beef steaks of some description, boerewors (literally “farmers sausage – see my previous posts here and here) and marinated pork spare ribs if one was feeling adventurous. Fish might be permissible in the Western Cape but chicken was for sissies. The braai was essentially a protein-fest – vegetables were confined to the odd whole potato or onion, wrapped in foil and tossed into the coals, to emerge steaming and delicious when they yield to a sharp poke with a knife. My father (who was born in 1922 and qualifies as a braai traditionalist in my book!) also always insists on white bread spread with apricot jam to accompany his braaivleis – but more usual traditional side dishes include potato salad, roosterkoek (rolls done on the grill – I may post the recipe in a subsequent post) or mealie pap and ‘train smash’ (again, you will have to wait for a subsequent post to hear all about that!). And the golden rule of the traditional braai is this: while the women may congregate in the kitchen and make side dishes and conversation, it is the men who prepare the meat and do the braaing. They huddle around the fire comparing braai tongs (really, they do!!), marinades and braai technique, and all shake their heads sadly when someone deviates from the braai norm by, say, putting their meat on the fire too early/late/at the wrong angle. Hmm… the mingled smell of smoke and testosterone. Witness the wild beauty of these gorillas in the smoke.   OK, so some South Africans have moved forward since the days of the Voortrekkers, and one often encounters very progressive and innovative braaiers these days (my husband, luckily for me, being amongst them!). Modern braaiers will quite happily use a Weber or other commercially available grill – although gas grills are still seen as not the Real Thing. They are also quite happy to braai on charcoal briquettes as opposed to wood (although for a kuiervuur, wood is still the material of choice!). Their repertoire of dishes has also been considerably extended and in addition to the traditional braai fare, these days you will often encounter marinated chicken portions, a whole fillet of beef, spatchcocked chicken, leg of lamb marinated in yoghurt and garlic, whole fish, and various types of sosaties – it all depends on the culinary ambition of the braaier. As appetisers, we can now enjoy chicken sundowners (sadly, a South African innovation that has not travelled) – chicken wings laid out straight and then skewered lengthwise to keep them straight before being marinated, braaied and eaten off the stick while congregated around the fire. We have also discovered the potential of braaied vegetables – who can resist a half a stuffed butternut squash, wrapped in foil and cooked amongst the coals? And of course, the salads have now extended way beyond the traditional potato salad (but don’t you dare invite me to a braai and NOT serve potato salad!). Some things, of course, have not changed. The Castle Lager still flows freely (it can also be used in an emergency to douse flames caused by dripping fat – but this is generally seen as a shameful waste of a good beer and a jug of water should be at hand for such emergencies) and the kuiervuur remains popular, especially at winter braais. The women are generally seen outside the kitchen at modern braais, sipping on their Sauvignon Blanc (or Bacardi Breezer, depending on the average age of the party!). But to whatever extent women have gained social equality in the New South Africa, one constant remains – the men do the braaing!! To deny them this would be to deny them their manhood. And besides, it is one of the few times a red-blooded South African man will volunteer to cook… 😉 So against this background, you can imagine my excitement about this IMBB topic – and you can imagine how pleased I was when we were invited to a South African braai by friends of ours on the 18th! We trekked clear across London to join Donald and Christelle (see pic below!) and a dozen other South Africans for a proper braai, surrounded by our countrymen.   DonnieAndChristelle At the risk of offending everyone, I just have to say a few words about nationality and braaing ability. In South Africa, every little boy grows up learning to braai. The first food you eat NOT made my grownups is usually on a school or university weekend away when some teenage boy chars his first lamb chop – so you could say braaing is in our blood and if I say so myself, damn, we’re good at it. Here in London, when we are invited to a barbecue (i.e not an exclusively South African gathering!), it is almost always the South African men that gravitate towards the fire and end up doing all the cooking of meat, while the Aussies and Kiwis make lots of suggestions from the sidelines (but don’t actually DO anything ;-)) and the Brits nervously clutch their mobile phones, wondering whether the smoke levels warrant a call to the fire brigade. But to be fair, the Brits don’t really stand a chance in the barbecue/braai stakes – and it stems from a traumatic childhood introduction. I mean, Nick and I nearly laughed our heads off the first time we saw a “disposable BBQ” in the supermarket here – a foil roasting pan filled with (useless) lumpwood charcoal and a single firelighter, covered with a flimsy grid. The idea is that you tuck this item under your arm, head out into the glorious English countryside and just toss in a match to start your BBQ and within minutes, you’ll be grilling. In reality, however, these disposables lead to two very unhappy consequences. Firstly, the lumpwood charcoal burns at 451 degrees Fahrenheit (ho ho ho) for about 10 minutes and then the lumps disintegrate and the temperature drops to nil. This means that anything you cook on it will be black as coal on the outside and bloody on the inside, and leads to Brits trying to cook over open flames as opposed to glowing coals long after they have abandoned disposables. The second consequence is that, because of the tiny available grid area, you end up cooking tiny things, like pork sausages and hamburger patties and nothing else! So your average British barbecue combines undercooked food with processed meats and the end result is just horrid. Oh yes, and summer only lasts about a week, so there is hardly any time to practice and get really good. (There are notable exceptions to this rule, but few can argue that the British are not naturally inclined to be barbecue greats!)   But enough wrecking of international relations – on with IMBB6! Nick very kindly agreed to help me make our signature braai dish – a whole stuffed beef fillet – far from traditional, but a sure-fire BBQ show stopper. The recipe comes from the rather marvellous South African Kettle Braai Cookbook and requires a Weber charcoal grill (or similar kettle BBQ) and an indirect fire. This is an idea pioneered by Weber and is discussed in most cookbooks featuring Weber recipes, but in case you don’t possess such a book, here’s how. Make a fire using 16 charcoal briquettes and light them all in a pile on one side of the barbecue kettle. Once the briquettes have had time to ash over (about 40 minutes), transfer half of them to the other side of the barbecue. Position a foil drip tray between the two piles to keep them apart. Place the grill on the barbecue and voila, you are ready to cook. What the recipe does not require, but which we often add, are hickory chips soaked in water for about 30 minutes and then sprinkled on the coals before cooking commences. This gives the meat a lovely smoky flavour that I can highly recommend – but it’s not essential by any means. So without further ado, here is my recipe for IMBB6 – pictures to follow when our hosts e-mail them to me! Oh and one last thing – the question you’ve all been dying to ask: how did it turn out?? Well, there were some teething troubles because everyone else had brought chops and chicken and boerewors and were so fascinated by our parcel of fillet that they kept opening the Weber to look at it. This made the heat dissipate and the meat just did not want to sear (as it should) on the outside or cook on the inside. In the end it stayed on at a very moderate heat for over an hour (and it was only a tiny 1/2 kg fillet!) and was removed with great trepidation. But once Nick started carving we realised it was just perfect – just pink around the centre and as tender as can be. You could probably have eaten it using only a fork! Here are 2 pics – one when the fillet came off the grill (note lack of searing – see above!) and one after it had been cut. Clearly I have some way to go on the food stylist learning curve… but at least you get the general idea!   stuffedfilletontheWeber2     STUFFED BEEF FILLET ON THE BRAAI (serves 6) Ingredients 1.5kg (3lb) beef fillet, trimmed Salt & black pepper 2 Tbsp melted butter (I substituted olive oil) For the stuffing: 100g canned smoked oysters (I have also substituted smoked mussels in the past to good effect) 3 Tbsp fresh breadcrumbs 3 Tbsp fresh parsley, chopped ½ tsp dried thyme (I also added ½ tsp rosemary) Salt & black pepper 2 Tbsp melted butter 1 small onion, chopped 1 clove garlic, chopped (not called for in the original recipe, but I like it!) 2 Tbsp dry sherry 3 Tbsp sour cream   Method   1. Make the stuffing first.  Melt the butter (or heat the oil) & sautée the onion and garlic.  Combine the oysters, breadcrumbs, parsley, thyme, salt & pepper.  Add the onion, garlic (together with the oil/butter in the pan),  sour cream and sherry and mix well. 2. Make an incision to create a pocket down one side of the fillet leaving, the 2 ends closed if possible. Alternatively, use a sharpening steel to make a hole down the middle of the fillet. Stuff the meat. 3. Using a needle and thread, sew up the opening if the meat has been cut and tie with string to keep in shape. Season lightly and brush with melted butter. 4. Prepare an indirect fire and fit a foil drip tray between the coals. Place meat in a roast holder (we didn’t have one – not really necessary) and position it on the grid over the drip pan. 5. Cover the kettle and cook for 25-30 minutes, depending on the degree of rareness required.   Cover with foil and allow to rest for 5-10  minutes before carving.

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  1. says

    Can’t let all that go without comment…
    Lovely description and very interesting. On to grilling in Britain. I lived in Surrey from 1965 to 1983 and admittedly we didn’t do much grilling and admittedly we weren’t a very typical British family since Mum was from New York, Dad from Louisiana and we were almost all born in the US. BUT, we had a memorable barbecue on July 4th 1976 for the bicentennial. My dad dug a pit four feet by four feet by two feet in the centre of the back lawn. He lined it with rocks, laid a very serious and large oak fire that filled the whole pit and then let it burn down to a very large mound of glowing embers. Then he wrapped half a pig in foil, threw it on top and buried the whole lot under dirt with strategic air shafts left behind. I forget how long it was left like this – probably five hours or so. He had already brewed a wooden barrel of root beer and he made a vat of potato salad, a vat of greens and a big pile of corn. Then he hung up a flag and opened the house to ANYONE at all passing by (we had invited about 200). It was very, very good.
    And we also participated a couple of time in traditional English ox roasts with a whole cow turning on spits over an open fire that is started overnight so it is ready at lunchtime the next day – so the Brits do know how to do it…

  2. says

    Owen – beautiful, we call them a hungy down here and 1976 was probably the last time I saw one too. Very noble but no need to stick up for the Brits, bagging them is an ex-colonial birthright. Friend back from England told me about the dispoasable BBQs and we damn we wet ourselves with laughter.
    Fantastic write-up. I’d built up quite a hunger by the time I got to the recipe. Good to see BBQ sexual politics are near universal. Keep up the good Braai evangelising- as Ghandi said “Be the change you want to see”.
    BTW : Football, meat pies, kangaroos, and Holden cars!

  3. says

    Owen – your Bicentennial Barbecue sounds awesome! But as you say – this is not exactly typical British fare! Your ox barbecue story is interesting and I DID say in my post that there are some notable exceptions to the Brit-can’t barbecue rule – this must be one! However in the 4 years we’ve been here, I have never heard of anything like this taking place and certainly it’s inconceivable in London. Also, I guess 20 years is 20 years and traditions may have been lost in that time. So let me rephrase: modern urban Brits are seriously handicapped in the BBQ skills department!
    Anthony – thanks for the compliment, mate! Sexual politics and barbecues go together like beer and rugby. Inextricable.

  4. says

    Since I’m kind of mid-Atlantic (born in the US, grew up in England, sound and am somewhat culturally English, live in the US) I end up getting it from both sides. I should probably move to Greenland or something.
    I, too, never understood those tiny portable barbecues – and since you need lighter fluid (usually built-in) to light them, the food is burnt, raw and covered in petrol!
    On the other hand there are little portuguese barbecues and Japanese hibachis that aren’t any bigger but are muc more effective. They are made of cast iron and you just use a very small amount of charcoal/wood to get embers and then grill little things (sardines or yakitori) on them.
    Back to the ox roast – yes it was 20 years ago and it was out in Hampshire. Your description of the Brits with mobiles standing around nervously sounds just like London.
    Here in the US there’s plenty of grilling but also a lot of smoking – hours of cooking inside enclosed drums. Haven’t tried it myself (you need more specialised equipment) but it looks like fun. Anyway, the American barbecue snobs tell you that grilling isn’t barbecue — all real barbecue is smoked.
    Thanks again for the lovely write up.

  5. says

    There’s a vaguely derogatory but very funny Afrikaans term used to describe someone with one foot on each of 2 continents – a “soutie” (literally, salty). This is short for “soutpiel” which translates as “salt d*ck” – as when you are standing spread-eagled between 2 continents, this is the part that will be dangling in the brine!! In SA it was used to describe the English who were intent on maintaining their Victorian Englishness while living rough in the colonies. In light of your straddling the Atlantic, I thought you might find this interesting/amusing!! 😉
    You are right about the disposable BBQs – it is quite an art to produce food that is raw, burnt AND covered in some sort of flammable liquid. And yet, they manage it!! I have seen some of the small metal barbecues you mention – they are very cool and also don’t leave a nasty patch of dead, singed grass like the disposalbes do. Altogether a better idea.
    It’s very interesting what you say about barbecue in the US – I was reading a recent post by The Amateur Gourmet’s blogsitters about barbecue & remember thinking that slices of smoked meat in a sticky sauce don’t sound much like my idea of a barbecue… Funny how the central idea of cooking over a fire can take on so many culrutal variations! We have tried smoking things in our Weber charcoal grill (chicken & ribs)- we used soaked woodchips and put a fireproof container of water in the grill with the food. It takes a while but works really well. It sure beats a friend of ours (he of the fire in the wheelbarrow…) who smoked wild boar ribs by tossing the occasional wet log on the fire and putting a damp cardboard box ofer the meat on the grill :o)

  6. Stephan Du Preez says

    No one knows what a true BRAAI is other than a full bred South African! A BRAAI, just like your excellent recipe (tried & loved), is LEKKER!!! – Hartswater, Northern Cape, South Africa

  7. says

    Ja, man, ‘n braai is sommer BAIE lekker! Maar jislaaik, hierdie lot weet nie veel van braaivleis nie. My man sê hy doen sendelingwerk as hy die ouens hier leer hoe om te braai! Ten minste het ons nou ‘n plek gekry wat lekker boerewors verkoop…
    Dankie dat jy kom inloer het & geniet all die gebraaiery diè somer.

  8. says

    I had a great laugh at the descriptions above! We’ve been in Ireland for a while now and the “barbeques” here pale in comparison to the SA braai!!! It took us a long while to get used to the fact that no-one “braais’ with wood!!!
    However we bought our own wood and a braai unit and proceeded to do it SA style – albeit under an unbrella in sometimes sub zero temperatures!!! There’s nothing like it!! AAAH!!

  9. says

    This looks like a really fabulous dish to try out! And I know Im always looking for new things to try out, from other people. Im def going to do this one next week! Thanks

  10. says

    Hey, nice posting here. I really enjoyed watching it and thinking if I can make it. I will try it on in my next bbq party that seems something different than other bbq ideas recipes. I’ll try to make it my masterpiece. I was taking cooking courses from this site they have some good bbq recipes and fresh bbq ideas. I just thinking of sharing it here.