On a trip to South Africa a few years ago I encountered the ‘braii’ for the first time. My wife, who lived in Capetown for a few years had told me about these events. Initially, I was slightly less than whelmed, reasoning that a ‘braai’ was in fact a barbecue and I had one of those at home, why all the fuss?
As the evening unfolded I realised that to describe a braai as ‘a barbecue’ was the culinary equivalent of calling, say, Yaya Toure ‘a big lad’. There’s much more to it than acquiring a chunk of ironmongery designed for char-grilling sossies and burgers. Braai is a culture, a tradition. For the white South African male, mastering the art of cooking humongous quantities of steak is an essential life skill. ‘Braai’ is both noun and verb. The braai is not only the equipment used for the purpose, it is the name given to the cooking method and even the event itself.
Said event has very macho overtones. It’s a boy thing. At the first braii I attended, in the hills beyond Paarl, an arriviste from wimpy old Europe turned up with two big bowls of salad, causing his sexual orientation to be questioned all night.
Frequently, too, you’ll be treated to a tasty chunk of venison which mine jovial host has slaughtered in your honour.
All that said, these guys really do know their meat – from choosing to cooking and your average Irish BBQ burger burner could learn a whole heap from watching the braai boys in action.
A key element of the braai (noun) is the consumption of copious amounts of wine usually red and beefy as the meat that’s piled up ready to braai (verb).
If you fancy getting tuned in to the life of braai, Wine consultant Jean Smullen, who runs the excellent wine diary over on her website http://www.jeansmullen.com has organised an interesting event, matching prime cuts to South African wines. During the evening you’ll learn about what to look for, how to assess quality and how to cut and cook meat.
The Prime Cuts and Premium Wine event will take place at two venues: Dublin: Ely Wine Bar & Brasserie, Custom House Quay, IFSC, Dublin 1, on Wednesday 31st October, 2012. Ryan Stringer Executive Chef will be on hand to share his expertise and knowledge about meat and the art butchery. Cork:- Barry’s of Douglas, on Wednesday 14th November, 2012. Alan Murphy, Chef at Barry’s has many years experience as a specialist meat chef. Years of working in country houses means he has a great knowledge of meat and game.
The evening will start with bubbles. Those attending will be greeted with a glass of the very elegant Cap Classique from Pongracz.
TO BOOK contact: Jean Smullen WSET Dip Tel: (086) 816 8468 email: firstname.lastname@example.org COST: €25 per person – advance booking essential
For the record, my own method for cooking steak is – a large black iron pan over a high heat. Get the pan as hot as possible, don’t oil it. Smear the meat both sides with a trace of Extra Virgin olive oil, then anoint with crushed sea salt, freshly ground black pepper and a generous squeeze of lemon juice. Place on pan, sear both sides and keep on turning until the steak is cooked to your liking. Approx 4 minutes for rare, 6 for medium rare for a 1″ thick steak. The method comes from a chef in Montepulciano, Toscana, Italy, circa 1986.