Friday, September 24, 2010

The Queen's Herd

Rugby is not our national sport – its braaing – or rather standing around a braai and telling each other how to braai, when the coals have cooled enough, when the meat is ready and - when everybody has had a few - if the meat has been turned yet to mention but four of a thousand and one dilemmas each braaimaster must face. 

We are imminently qualified to claim it as our national sport unlike rugby whose longest traditions are playing players out of position and mismanagement of resources. Running close second as national sport is consultant Springbok rugby coach.

However, we have been braaing longer than anyone else thanks very much Bruce, Joaquỉn and Santiago, ja the earliest archaeological evidence of a braai is to be found at the Sterkfontein caves.

Braaing continues to reverse colonise the world. Just recently Shaka Zulu - a 750-seater braai house apparently at a cost £5.5m  – opened in London with the likes of Amy Winehouse and our very own Zulu King in attendance. Amy was not there to meet the Zulu King but to try some Swazi Reds despite one of the UK’s top chefs handling the braai tongs.

General manager Michael Clarke has previously been involved with restaurants run by Marco Pierre White, Gordon Ramsay and Terence Conran, and head chef Barry Vera is known as South Africa's answer to Ramsay, thanks to his TV cooking shows which have aired in 80 countries. "Will South African food sell?" asks Vera. "Well, if you'd said 10 years ago a place called The Gaucho Grill could get high-end prices for Argentinean food, most people would have said: 'In your dreams'. So we know the market is always looking for something new. We want to show you Brits what and how we eat at home."

Items on the menu include Chakalaka,  Amazi, (Zulu sour milk), Rooibos smoked Salmon, Sosaties (of course my bra), Skilpadjis for the morbidly homesick while Bobotie has proven to be a hit probably because it has been described as a deconstructed moussaka or a post-pub meal.

"As we develop, we'll be bringing in crocodile, zebra, boar and water buffalo. But none of it is food to be afraid of," Vera says. The beef he uses has its provenance closer to London and comes with the loftiest of credentials – Red Poll beef from the royal Sandringham Estate. "We have an exclusive deal for them to supply us. It's the Queen's herd and has never been used in a restaurant before." But his springbok, Karoo mountain range lamb, ostrich and kudu, regarded as the finest game meat in the world, will all hail from the motherland.

Durban-born Pete Gottgens opened Chiswick's Springbok Cafe in 1994, and has cooked South African  delicacies for the Queen and Tony Blair. Now, as chef-owner of the Ardeonaig Hotel and restaurant, in Loch Tay, he has persuaded the citizens of Perthshire to develop a taste for a rich chocolate-maize pudding which Nelson Mandela always asks for on his UK visits.

Courses at African cookery schools, such as Canning Town's Jollof Pot, run by two finalists from Raymond Blanc's The Restaurant, are becoming de rigueur for foodies who've tired of learning from Michelin-starred TV chefs. Even the seminal new Leiths Meat Bible (Bloomsbury) has 26 pages devoted to exotic meats, most of them African. Internet retailers of "alternative meats" are reporting huge increases in sales ever since the World Cup.

"Immediately after the World Cup, we saw a 400 per cent increase in demand for our African meats," says Paul Cook, owner of the Bristol-based Osgrow, who'll sell you ostrich, giant eland, impala and wildebeest, among others. "It's settled down to about 200 per cent on last year's figures, but we expect to see that rising steadily. A major factor in its increase in popularity is more people are taking safari holidays, tasting these meats while they're there and wanting to repeat the experience once they return home."

Now – while I originally was not going to jump on the National Braai Day posting bandwagon – I am going to add a recipe – as is my right as braaimaster of the Boland, Western Cape, South Africa and the Universe.

So for some Sirloin or Rump Steaks:

The marinade (the citrus adds flavour and tenderises the meat)
  • 6 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 red chilli, seeds removed and finely chopped
  • 1 orange, juice only
  • 1 lemon, juice only
  • 2 tbsp chopped parsley
  • 100 ml olive oil
The salsa (the salsa is so good you can skip the marinade esp when braaing, it can be our secret)
  • 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp red onions, or spring onion finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp white wine vinegar
  • pinch dried red chilli flakes
  • 2 tbsp chopped coriander, leaves and stalks
  • 2 tbsp chopped parsley
  • 1/2 lime, juice only and worth finding one*
  • 100 ml olive oil

1. Start a moerse fire.

2. Using a sharp knife score the steaks in a criss-cross pattern 2mm deep.

3. To make the marinade: combine the ingredients in a shallow dish or plastic bag.

4. Add the steaks and toss in the marinade. Place in the fridge for at least 1 hour and up to about 8 hours.

5. To make the salsa: combine all the ingredients in a bowl and season to taste with salt and pepper.

6. Spatula the marinade off the steaks to avoid any burnt garlic, braai for about 2-3 minutes on each side, or longer depending on your blood tolerance.

7. Transfer to serving plates and spoon with salsa. Serve the remaining salsa in a bowl on the side.

* Can somebody please do something about the poor supply of limes in SA, asseblief!



  1. Its difficult to get a good steak in London: Gaucho Grill sells excellent imported Argentinian steaks simply grilled. Its primarily a steak house.

    Shaka Zulu has attracted some awful reviews, unfortunatley one I read in S Times is behind their paywall but see see what the Metro had to say - and these two diners

    Also I am disappointed that you are not attributing the source of the quotes you are using which have been taken from the (UK) Independent

  2. Thanks Peter, ja there was (then) only one place to go for a steak after a malbec tasting and it was Gaucho - all be it at heavily inflated prices but never had a bad experience. Apologies if 'references' look like a header, its a link.
    Go well