Cook, Cook and Braai!!

Gosh, this blog has been dormant for so long that I’ve almost forgotten it exists. However, Ailsa’s challenge this week is “cook“… and her photos reminded me that she missed the South African angle. So, I’ll throw in a wee gallery to assist… past braais, past pleasure… great memories!!

Pork Belly – Braaied and Smoked

Father’s Day is just one of those days… another Sunday… one of the 52 we’re allocated annually.

Not!!

Father’s Day is a day for me to have fun and fun for me is to braai… or take photos… or spend with my family… or to pinch my good lady’s posterior… or to sample a good bit of red stuff… or to blog a bit… or not to think of work at all… or to watch a bit of test cricket on TV… or to chat with distant daughters and sons closer… and relax.

So, I ask, why not do all in one? I decided earlier in the week to try something different. Pork bell/ rib. John, our friendly village meat master had the perfect answer. A whole slab of belly pork with half still on the bone. I did a bit of reading… the usual suspects, Hugh, BBC food, even Master Oliver… how to best do the roast. Only difference, I wasn’t going to do this bit of pork in any oven… I was most certainly going to braai the slab.

I mean… if I can get the Christmas pork roast to crackle on the braai in the middle of winter then I stand half a chance to get this baby just right!

Saying all of that, let’s get the preparation just right. Basically, the Stanley Knife I keep in the kitchen for the express reason of preparing ribs was the first tool to be used. Score the skin, trying not to cut into the meat. Next, place the joint over the sink and pour a whole kettle of boiling water over the skin. I’ve done this before with a pork roast so I wasn’t too afraid of giving it a go.

Yes, I hear some of you shouting at the screen… “No!! You’ve got to keep the skin dry!!”

Yes, that’s where the salt comes in… rub salt into the wounds… rub hard. Then rest a wee while. You’ll see how the salt draws out the moisture. Then use fresh paper towel to remove all the water. Next I put more salt on the skin… no, don’t rub it in again, you don’t want to end up with salt pork. Wait a few minutes and dry off the skin again. I repeated this step 3 times.

Before I go too far, let’s take a few steps back. After the scoring and initial salt rubbing onto the skin I flipped the slab over and doctored the underside. Sorry, the muti is my secret , never to be shared. I wish. Just dry herbs and spices bashed up in the mortar. Oh, don’t forget the olive oil.

Phew… this write-up is turning into a bit of a marathon. I’ll say, part of the preparation was doctoring some lamb ribs, for those in the house who can’t let an opportunity by to enjoy a few.

After all the salting and drying I rubbed in my muti… then began the next part of the drying process. Here’s something you may not read in the manuals. I used the back of a knife to clear off any moisture from the skin. I kept doing this every few minutes for an hour or two. (Time spent writing the first part of this post.)

Begin by clicking in the top left corner… I’ve included the times so you know how long to wait between steps… if you should ever want to try this at home.

The last photo in the sequence above was taken at 13h32. I kept at the drying process until the coals were hot enough and the braai suitably toasty to slap on the slab. That was just after 16h00. The plan was to eat by 18h30 or so… giving a good 2 hours for braaiing and smoking and the 20 minutes for the slab to rest before carving

Slab on.... just after 16h00

The first signs of colour and crisping… all seems in order at this point.

Colour at last... maybe I should have realised I was in for difficulty at 16h44...

Throw on the lamb ribs to get them coloured up as well…

Throw on the lamb ribs to get their colour going... also 16h44

I’m not convinced that the crackling is getting there! Add more charcoal as well as the smoking medium. (Apple grated into the oak sawdust moistened with cider)

The final attempt at getting the crackling crisp was after Junior Son walked out and suggested I turn the slab over… directly onto the grid for more direct exposure to the coals. It sure worked, one could hear the skin crackling and popping. Only thing, we lost the golden brown richness…

A bit scorched? Maybe that plan didn't work as planned!

The proof was in the carving… tasty and crisp!

Eventually... carving at 19h30... the meat was juicy, tastey and tender... even though the outsides didn't look too appealing!

Lessons learned. 

  • Don’t put the meat on foil. At one point the trapped fat caught fire… this leaving a very black underside.
  • Find a large enough stainless roasting dish… place the meat on a rack and keep moist for at least the first half of the braai
  • Make a deflector plate to place over the meat, this will concentrate the heat and make the crackling happen without having to turn the meat over.
  • Put the smoking medium in sooner… on a larger tray for better results.

What more can I say? An experiment that didn’t quite work as planned. Will I try t again? Yes, after incorporating all of the lessons learned. Simple!

Banana & Berry Loaf

Yes, I know. This is supposed to be a site all about meat and the art of braaiing. So, you’re quite correct in assuming I’ve sort of lost the plot… again. But darn… scroll down just a little and you’ll see what I had to contend with last time I made a braai fire. The resultant frozen mind warp conclusions drawn after that last braai? Two fold, I’ll wait until we have dry wood and charcoal before I braai again!

However, I’m usually in the mood to do something along the food line during weekends. The idea for a bit of a bake began at work. We are fortunate to have fresh fruit supplied each morning. On the odd occasion the bananas are not at their best and the young lad who brings the supplies takes the bruised fruit away. I asked one morning where the fruit goes, half expecting an answer of

“Oh… the chef uses it to produce loaves of … or… or…”

“In the bin,” was his answer.

“No, not anymore…” said I… “I’ll take the bananas home… my GLW makes a great banana loaf.”

So… I took the bananas home. In the mean time I had a brain wave… banana and raisin loaf? Could that be a runner? The GLW wasn’t at all in the mood for my crazy idea. OK, I thought… I do a search on the web to see if the idea was so far-fetched. No, there were pages of recipes. Pages!

I looked at a few of the top ranked and chose the one included below.

http://allrecipes.co.uk/recipe/6725/banana—raisin-loaf.aspx

On Saturday morning we rooted around in the cupboards to ensure we had all the ingredients required. The raisins were long devoured so we set off to get some of the bits, butter, eggs and raisins. The friendly German store’s raisin supply was also long devoured so my GLW selected a mixed berry and cherry sachet. A lady at work, who had also taken a few bananas to make her own loaf, mentioned blueberries giving a good zing to the loaf so I grabbed a 300 gram punnet for posterity.

Once back home the fun began… mix, squish, squash, beat… fold in… add fruit. At one point during the prep of the bananas Senior Son, my most strident critic, walked into the kitchen to inquire about the activity.

“Banana loaf?” 

He walked off, seemingly disinterested. A few minutes later he was back in the kitchen

“Why must you use rotten bananas?”

Aha… he was concerned that I would again be attempting to poison him, thought I… like so many other times!

“Ripe… soft, over ripe even,” answered I, “Not rotten.” 

Was that a snort of disdain I heard as he went off? Who cares, I was on a squishing roll.

When all the ingredients were well blended the wet mix went into the baking tins… then into the oven. The wait was on, like the expectant father I paced… and paced.

No, I went off to blog. Forty five minutes later the results were there for all to see. And the taste? Well, the hungry horde made short work of the first loaf. I’d say within 30 minutes of exiting the oven it was well gone. By Sunday morning the second one was also a thing of memory. My verdict? Hot or cold, the results are better that expected. Yes, even Senior Son had to admit, it was a winner!

So… Sunday morning I decided it was time to do it all again. For the camera and so I could take a loaf to work. Yes, every time I mention taking the bananas home I get slagged that I can’t make an edible loaf. Well, I beg to differ… here’s the proof!! (Click on the top left pic, then navigate for captions… )

I have a confession to make… we didn’t know where the kitchen scale had vanished to so all the measurements were approximations. The two batches differed significantly. The first was moist, almost wet, that’s why it worked well hot. The taste? Both were good…

Fresh from the oven...

Fresh from the oven… looking great!

Lessons learned? Find the scale… get smaller baking pans for this mix quantity, ie, three would be better than the two bread pans I used.

The softer the bananas the better! Did I say find the scale? Yes… I’ll do it again, using different dried fruit as the mood takes me… banana and fruit loaf… mmmm, good stuff, that’s for sure!

Cut them dear... cut them thick!! ;-)

Update 25 Feb 2014: – The last batch didn’t include blueberries or the dried berry mix but rather I substituted mixed nuts and raisins with the mix mentioned above. Also, as I had a scale to use I went even lighter on the sugar and made sure the mix was sloppy… that makes for a moist loaf… again, devoured by all…

Contradictions!

There are a few things in life that just don’t fit… a Saffer supporting a Kiwi rugby team… considering a cold Chilean red suitable for summer supping… preferring to eat Vegan when meat is the only way forward.

Wet braai wood in almost sub-zero conditions would be one such contradiction. Man… when you run out of charcoal and its mid winter and it’s Ireland and your local wood merchant has long sold out his last few dry sticks… then you simply soldier on… and blow… and fan… and use almost a box of artificial fire lighters… and blow… and pray a bit. Yes, we eventually had our feed… not too bad… but, that’s a story for another day!

Wood blowing bubbles... winter braai fun!

When last have you had this kind of party fun? Bubbles? Yes please sir… could we have some more? NOT!!

Braaied Lamb Ribs – With A Twist! (Part 1)

I’m usually not good with other people’s recipes. Mostly they act as inspiration when I see something interesting. No… I’m not saying I’m some kind of wiz in the kitchen, actually the reverse is true. I have a few stock standards, tried and tested with which I occasionally (often) experiment. A tweak here… an additional ingredient there… so it usually goes.

Braaiing comes natural to many folk. I suppose I’m lucky in that I seemed to have been dealt quite a good hand when it comes to throwing bits of meat on the coals. My family just so happen to think I’m OK when it comes to conjuring up a fairly decent meal for them, when I attempt to do so. I think my luck is somewhat enhanced because I have NO sense of smell. Yes, I’m often asked by guests how I could taste my food if I can’t smell it. I’m not sure… I guess in my case it’s all in the fingertips and the eyes…

Anyway, I’ve really digressed. Today is slightly different. Not only did I draw from the recipe of a fellow blogger for my inspiration, I actually followed all the instructions… with a tweak or two. Let’s just say that’s the stubborn creativity in me.

The fun begins...

The inspiration came from Jennifer’s How to make Tomato Sauce Like an Italian. The idea of doing a few lamb ribs in a marinade based on the sauce was born. Why? Well, I was actually looking for an excuse to spend hours doing nothing… just relaxing in the kitchen with the family. They came and went while I carried on regardless. I’ve often said it… the making and preparing of the meal is therapeutic. I’ll agree with one of my food hero’s, Rick Stein often says cooking is a form of art. It must be, otherwise, if it was work, we wouldn’t necessarily find enjoyment, would we?

OK… back to the tomato sauce. The best way to describe the whole process is to say please click on the link and follow Jennifer’s step by step guide. I’ll show you a gallery of my process so, if you want to see where I deviated you’ll have to check the slides sequentially.

OK… I’ll begin the sequence by saying I began the whole process at around noon on a Saturday and by about seven in the evening I put the ribs in the sauce for their overnight rest. I’ll add, for the sake of not boring you to tears I’ll split the post into a two-parter… today, the sauce…

Begin top left… read the captions… there’s a surprise ingredient or two added…

Rules of Engagement?

Continuing from the first post… where does one begin to tell the story? Conversely put… how does one eat an elephant? That’s easy as you all know… you eat the beast little by little… bit by bit. That’s how I’ll relating the tale here at BB&B.

Tradition is a strong reminder and binder. It reminds us of home and binds us to what was once that home. I am as South African as you will ever find. So many generation back that even the Portuguese sea captains and French Huguenots come into the equation. Maybe that’s why I love the ideas of France and Portugal so much. OK, enough history.

Tradition can also become a way of life. Tradition can translate to others as well. My Good Lady Wife wasn’t born on the African continent yet braaiing is absolutely normal for her and the rest of the family. I dare you… ask the good lady what she wants for Christmas fare and you’ll soon be put right… the roasts on the braai! Yes, I kid you not!

I’ll take it a step further… picture this. Our 5-year-old grandson, born and bred here in Ireland… has never set foot on any portion of Africa, never-mind South Africa, yet… when the other day he accidentally overheard mention of ‘braai’ his ears pricked up and he enthusiastically asked…

“Are we having a braai?”

No, he didn’t ask if we were having a bbq… he asked if it would be a braai! Even the very little ones know and appreciate the great tastes associated with braaiing.

OK… I’ve waffled on enough for today. I’ll leave you with one of my favourite braai photos… yes, Christmas in the snow… a labour of love. Read more about it here. Until next time… may the coals be just right and the lamb tender!

Braai time... Christmas Day 2010, Kilcock, Ireland. Santi in the snow!!

The Beginning…

Where to begin? Well, for a site that’s meant to extol the virtues of the braai one must surely be tempted to get cracking with the fire first! OK… then we’ll begin at the beginning. The fire. The fire is the heart and soul of any good bbq. Imagine going to all the trouble of going off to the butcher to collect a few choice cuts of meat. The stuff’s not all that cheap you know, especially if you have half a tribe of hungry, growing sons and now grandsons.

In my home country, South Africa, braaiing is a way of life so when one uproots and moves halfway across the world to Ireland something must be carried along and yes, something may also be lost. Here on the Green Island where life is easy for beef, poultry, lamb and swine the meat is great but the weather not always so. That means braaiing opportunities are rather few and far between… if you let a bit of weather get in your way.

We braai rather often, including doing the Christmas roasts on the bbq (almost) every year since we arrived in 2001. Yes, even the year it snowed, click here for proof! The problem with out of season braaiing is the lack of charcoal. We used to get our charcoal from a local SA shop which has now moved on because of the tight economic times. Now, of late, I’ve been experimenting with local hardwoods. Not altogether as successful as I hope but with a bit of planning one can get a fair result.

So… that’s where we’ll begin… with the fire…

A mixture of beech and balckthorn works resonable well for braaiing lamb ribs. Well for steak too!

I’ll elaborate as time goes by about some of the reasons for the creation of this blog. I hope this new blog turns into a showcase for all sorts of braai related products and even the odd recipe or idea for cooking or meat preparation.

So long for now, may the fire burn brightly and the coals be great!