If they make a movie of my life, the segment covering July/Aug 2004 it is going to be called “Four braais and a barbecue” – I insist! I don’t think we have ever had so many consecutive barbecues in all the time I’ve been in London. In fact, I struggle to think of a time when I had braais on five consecutive weekends in South Africa! But the weather has been so good lately, and we are so acutely aware than in two months time, barbecues and braais will be totally out of the question until spring that any excuse will do to light a fire, toss some salads, sip some booze and cook outside. So as a build-up to a report on the braai we had at home recently, I thought I’d do a quick round-up of the braais we have been to lately and share with you the recipe for the salmon and salads we served at our own braai.
BRAAI 1 – at our South African friends Donnie and Christelle’s place on 17 July. I posted extensively on the food at this braai as it was my IMBB6 contribution, so I won’t bore you with that again. Suffice to say that this was a proper SA braai – loads of people, loads of meat (sausages, boerewors, chicken, beef, lamb, you name it), green salad, potato salad & bread. It doesn’t get more authentic than this!!
BRAAI 2 – at another South African friend’s place – Gillian’s housewarming on 24 July. Another braai (as opposed to a barbecue) because despite some English guests, the Saffers were still in charge of cooking the meat, so it still qualifies as a braai 😉 Gill outdid herself with lovely salads, including some delicious avocados. These are such a luxury here and we REALLY miss the abundance of avocados that we enjoyed back home. You can buy packets of 10 avocados on street corners in SA for less than £1! We also had a potato bake, something which I seldom see here but which is standard fare in SA. I must make a note to post a recipe soon as they are totally delicious! But the crowning glory on this particular braai was Gill’s inspired idea for dessert – “springbokkies”. These are shot glasses of peppermint liqueur (Creme de Menthe or similar) topped with Amarula Cream, a South African liqueur made from the fruit of the marula tree. But if this is too exotic, Bailey’s Irish cream will do the trick just fine. The trick is to pour the cream liqueur carefully so that the 2 don’t mix – the name comes from the green-and-gold colour combination, just like our (Tri-Nations champion!!!) rugby team. Needless to say, they taste like dessert and have a kick like a mule, so the latter part of the braai is a somewhat hazy recollection for me!
THE BARBECUE – so called because it was with some English acquaintances of Nick’s on 31 July and bore little or no resemblance to a braai!! Let’s just say it confirmed all my worst fears re. English grill skills… To start with, when we got there the host had experienced some difficulty in getting the fire started in his Weber charcoal grill. So he kept piling on more and more and MORE lumpwood charcoal (as opposed to proper briquettes) until the fire was completely smothered! By the time we got there was so much charcoal in the kettle that the charcoal was actually pushing up the grid!! AND he proudly told us he has also used lighter fluid to try and get it going!! Terrifying. Nick tried really hard to maintain a polite distance but in the end could not help himself and waded in to fix the fire. Then, with the fire finally burning, instead of putting the porkies (yes, this was an authentic London barbecue…) on the Weber grid, he clamped them in 2 separate grids and balanced these on the Weber grid. Huh??? He also put them on when the fire was still burning hot enough to melt metal, so they were instantly BLACK. Oh, and did I mention that he put (wait for it) a sheet of aluminium foil on the Weber grid under the porkies to catch the fat & prevent flames. Of course, within 30 seconds the tinfoil was just a sea of fat & one spark from below ignited the whole thing. Looked like a flaming oil spill in the North Sea!! But all was not lost – we did discover a really yummy English wine (don’t laugh…). Apparently Denbies vineyards are the largest in Europe, acreage-wise and we had the rather delicious Flint Valley (I can’t remember the vintage now) – a blend of Seyval Blanc and Reichensteiner. It tasted like a lightly oaked Chenin Blanc and had lots of fruity flavour – quite unlike any other English wine that I had ever tasted. So you see, there is a reason to attend an English barbecue once in a while!
BRAAI 3 – on 7 August at the house of my good friend Olwen’s boyfriend. OK, calling this one a braai is pushing the definition a bit as the cooking was equally managed by a South African and a Kiwi, but the majority of the guests there were South African – 3 (myself, Nick and Bronwyn, one of my best friends from home who recently moved to London) out of 5 – so it still counts as a braai! This one was at and was a rather spur of the moment affair – I originally called them up late afternoon to invite them to a braai at our house, but as things turned out we ended up driving over to their place instead. This one was a much more mellow affair than the others – we had Kir Royales to sip while the boys were cooking and for dinner we had some awesome New Zealand lamb ribs and marinated chicken thighs. Salads ranged from the very simple (vine tomatoes sliced and doused with good Balsamic vinegar) to my and Bron’s more complicated seven-layer salad. This is basically all the vegetables you have in the fridge chopped up into tiny little blocks and arranged in layers in a glass bowl. The only restriction is that the top layers have to be croutons, bacon, Miracle Whip mayo and grated cheddar cheese. My family always has this at Christmas time and it always brings back happy memories. It’s also really pretty!
BRAAI 4 – Well it had to come round eventually – my and Nick’s turn to host a braai on 15 August! So when our turn came we had to give some careful thought to what to cook as the recent spate of braais meant we had some stiff competition. We were going to have seven people over and they were all bringing some meat, so we could afford to do something a little special that everyone could taste. Bron and I went to Tesco early on the morning with the idea of getting some sort of fish to braai. I had never bought fresh fish from our local Tesco and wasn’t sure what they’d have. But my fears were unfounded – they had EVERYTHING! Whole trout, snapper, mackerel… but when my eye fell on the whole salmon, the decision was made. The lovely fishmonger patiently listened to my request – I wanted the whole thing butterflied and deboned so that I could cook it skin side down on the grill. Ten minutes of walking around the store collecting other groceries and my fish was ready to be collected in its impressive extra-large Ziploc plastic bag reading “Whole Fresh Salmon”. Although the fishmonger had taken about 15 minutes to carry out my instructions I was still charged only the weight of the fish!! So I thought the whole thing was a fantastic bargain.
Scooted back home and started making the salads. Potato salad was, of course, not negotiable, as was a green salad. But for the other two I got creative – caprese with fresh basil from my herb garden; and something called carpaccio of zucchini (recipe follows below!). Once the guests had arrived I mixed the basting sauce for the fish. OK, you are required to suspend your disbelief here. This is a common basting sauce for fish, spare ribs or even chicken back home in SA, but here in the UK people are highly suspicious when they hear about the ingredients so I usually let them taste the finished product first and then guess the ingredients. The “top secret” and in fact only ingredients are… Bovril and smooth apricot jam!! No, really, I swear! I boiled the kettle and dissolved a tablespoon of Bovril with hot water in a Pyrex jug. Then I added about 2 tablespoons of the smooth apricot jam and microwaved it on medium heat for 2 minute bursts, stirring in-between, until the jam was dissolved and a smooth sauce had formed. And that’s it! I suspect you could approximate these results with honey and soy sauce, but when this recipe was devised, soy sauce was not a staple food in every South African kitchen, hence the more earthy (and readily available. And cheap!) ingredients. When we were ready to cook, Nick cleared a corner of the Weber grill (in an ideal world he would also at this point have oiled the grill, or the skin of the fish) and laid the entire fish on the grill, skin-side down. Here it is on the grill – unfortunately we forgot to snap a pic after it was cooked!
He then basted the fish with the sauce and just left it alone, apart from repeat bastes. The fish cooks from the skin up and because it is a pretty thick chunk of fish, it does not dry out (if you have a smaller fish though, this could be a problem – trout need careful monitoring if they are to remain moist). The whole thing must have cooked through in about 15 minutes and then we were ready to serve. The salmon was just perfect – moist and with a sticky salt/sweet taste that drove the guests to distraction until I revealed the secret of the basting sauce! As I mentioned, we have tried this trick with salmon as well as trout and it works wonderfully with both. In South Africa I would usually use the basting sauce with braaied snoek, a barracuda-like game fish with a wonderfully robust flavour – try it if you can get your hands on it!
And what of the salads? I won’t insult you with a recipe for caprese – but I will show you this picture because it was just sooooo pretty:
I will, however, share with you the recipe for the carpaccio of zucchini as it is simple yet unusual and always goes down a treat whenever I serve it. The crispness of the zucchini contrasts well with the richness of the dressing and the Parmesan gives it a lovely zing. I will also tell you that the whole day was a roaring success and that salmon will be my braai food of choice for the foreseeable future!
CARPACCIO OF ZUCCHINI
For the dressing:
1/3 cup of olive oil
3 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 Tbsp capers (optional)
1 tsp wholegrain mustard
1 tsp honey
Salt & milled black pepper to taste
Chopped Italian parsley
1. Choose fairly large zucchini. Using a vegetable peeler, slice the zucchini lengthwise into ribbons. Arrange on a platter.
2. Mix all the dressing ingredients together and pour over the zucchini. Refrigerate for an hour or two to allow the flavours to develop.
3. When ready to serve, top with shavings of parmesan and sprinkle with the chopped parsley.
4. Serve with good bread to mop up the dressing.