Friday, October 30, 2009

Things that aren't recipes - and steak for dinner

I'm starting writing this entry with a few topics to write about, but none of them fleshed out in my mind. To summarise, I might end up writing about:

  • A healthy diet. What exactly does this mean and how do I plan to implement it in my daily life?

  • The Art and Science of the Braai Vleis. Its not actually that complicated, but there are quite a few techniques that make life easier.

  • I fell in love with a 700g, inch-thick, slab of Angus rump steak the other day. So tonight that is going to be braai'd, encrusted in pepper with a creamy mushroom sauce(no recipe yet), with grilled aurbergines (also no recipe yet) and baby potatoes in garlic butter and herbs (no recipe, but can probably be ad-libbed).

So what to write about?

[KingMuzza wanders off to the fridge and contemplates a beer]

OK, forget eating healthy. Lets talk about cooking meat.
Ah fuck it - I'll write something later.
[about 4 hours later]
Right, the braaivleis. So I got a hunch that the aubergine was going to be a disaster, so instead we're getting the same pumkin salad from the other night, and garlic and herb potatoes, plus the steak.

Tonight probably isn't a good night to talk about my health food plans for my family when I've got 700g of saturated fat and LDL cholesterol sitting next to me, waiting to be charred black for extra flavour.

Instead lets talk about fires. A chimney starter is a wonderful little gadget. It looks like a 5 litre paint tin, open on both ends, with a conical wire grill on the inside. You put a piece of firelighter (or scrunched up newspaper) under the cone, fill the top with charcoal, and apply flame.  The design gets flames and oxygen to the coals much quicker than if they were in a little stack in the braai, and so they light far quicker. 10 minutes later (once its flaming nicely, if you leave it too long you'll find you've got no charcoal left) you tip it into the braai, spread the coals out into the desired shape, and top up with fresh coals if there's not enough. The new coals now light pretty quickly, mostly due to peer pressure.

Tonight the plan is to sear the steak by placing it directly over very hot coals for a few minutes, and then transfer it to indirect heat where its insides can cook slowly (Wifey doesn't understand why dripping juices from the middle of a steak is a good thing). At the same time, there's a tray of pumkin and potatoes, roasting on the indirect heat, they should be cooked by the time the steak moves to the indirect heat. The veggies need a lot longer to cook than the steak does, so they're already on, but hang on, I'm getting ahead of myself.

To implement the above cooking plan, I've put a coal divider in the centre of the braai. I poured coals into one side, and have left the other side empty. You generally want a bed of coal 1 - 1.5 coals deep. Brickettes these days will burn evenly for a long time (as opposed to the natural type charcoal of my father's days, which burnt out really quickly). These days you can still cook something an hour or two after the braai is ready, although probably not perfectly.

[Kingmuzza jumps up to check the coal temperature]

Right, so conventional wisdom says that you should be able to hold you hand about 10cm above the coals for about 4 - 5 seconds, then the thing is ready for steak, or that the coals should be coated in a thin layer of grey ash. Now this is pretty relative - I have weenie hands (I work in an office, not on a farm), and it obviously depends on what you actually want to cook. Steak is easy because you want it to go onto a high heat and cook quickly (char the outside but leave the inside nice and juicy. I'm afraid it just comes down to experience.

On a sanitary note (assuming you're a beer-swilling male like myself) - once you've had raw meat sitting on a plate, that plate goes into the washing. Its really gross (and you'll catch a funky disease) if you put the cooked food back onto the same plate. Even if it does mean double the dirty dishes later.

Now - earlier I  brushed the steak with a little oil, then coated it in a lot of salt and pepper. Everything takes on a braai flavour when it's cooked on a braai (who would have thought), so if you want any other flavour to shine through, then you need to make it strong. The oil helps to stop the steak sticking to the grill. Also, take the meat out of the fridge and let it get to room temperature before you chuck it on the fire, this means that it doesn't need to cook for as long to get the inside cooked to your liking (which means that the outside is nicely crisp and brown, and not the colour and taste of charcoal).

That said, the steak starts off sticking to the grill, and if you don't want to tear your meat apart you should leave it without moving it until its charred enough to no longer be stuck. You need to respect the steak, let it cook without your constant interference.  I have a theory that when you see pink juices oozing through the top of the piece of meat, then its time to flip it (assuming medium-rare). I've yet to see any scientific studies to verify this though.

[Muzza checks his steak, flips it even though its still stuck to the grill]

Next you need to realise that direct heat cooking requires constant attention (Indirect cooking is pretty much fire-and-forget). So at some point you figure that the bit I wrote above about the meat not sticking to the grill might not work in every circumstance. In fact, I managed to turn it at just the right time - edges of a little blackness, and blackness on the grill marks, but otherwise a rich dark browny-red colour, and it wasn't torn to pieces at all by scraping it off the grill.

Personally, I recommend Seether, My Chemical Romance, Audioslave and Breaking Benjamin as perfect braai music, but each to their own.

I also lied about giving the steak any indirect heat time. I reckon after the second side has browned nicely then the meat is done. When you take a piece of meat off the braai you then need to let it sit somewhere warm and pleasant for 10 minutes. The meat relaxes, and the moisture which has been heading towards the centre of the meat during cooking, now edges back toward the crust. The meat also carries on cooking during this time (so avoid slicing it open to show the lady that its ready - she'll freak and make you cook it longer).

While the steak is resting and recovering from its ordeal, I made a mushroom sauce.
  • A big blob of butter
  • Half a tin of mushrooms, sliced. (We don't get fresh mushrooms in Mauritius)
  • Two cloves of garlic (roasted whole with the veggies, then crushed into the pan for the sauce)
  • A few sprigs of fresh thyme.
  • About a double shot of red wine
  • About 100ml of cream.
In a small pot, softly fry the butter, mushrooms, garlic and thyme.
Once the mushrooms are soft, butter has melted, and thyme smells delectable, add the wine.
Simmer slowly, reducing until the wine is almost gone.
Add the cream and again simmer slowly to reduce until you get the desired consistency.
Add some salt and pepper for good luck.

Serve over the steak, on a bed of garlic and herb potatoes, with a roasted pumkin and spinach salad as a side.

Mmmm, happy tummy once again.
Just a bit of a pity that I was so busy writing the bloody blog post that the steak was a bit overdone. Concentrate next time Muzza!

And I took photos so the blog starts to look like a real blog.


  1. Hey Murray, looks great, sounds great, definitely want to try one or two of your recipes (if I can beat Denzil to the kitchen)
    Cheers for now. Look forward to more upcoming recipes. Very confused by this profile comment so am going as anonymous. Ingrid

  2. WOOHOO, I got a comment on my blog!!! Thanks Ingrid. All the recipes that actually make it to the blog turned out quite nicely. I won't tell you too much about the ones that didn't make it here. (Although Vicki won't let me make the Chicken Cacciatore again.)