We don’t need an excuse to braai – after all, it’s part of our heritage. But, like all other good things, a braai can become boring if there is no variety. There is no better way to ‘spice’ up a braai than by adding herbs. Herbs can be used in rubs, marinades or in butters for the meat, in vegetable or salad side dishes, in salad dressings, and even added to the coals for a delicious aroma.
Meat is always the star of a braai, and a simple rule when using herbs is to match them with the meat as you would in conventional cooking. Here are some combinations:
- Chicken: rosemary, basil, parsley, savory, French tarragon
- Lamb: rosemary, garlic, ginger, mint, lemon balm, thyme
- Pork: basil, coriander, chervil, marjoram, oregano, sage, thyme
- Steak: garlic, ginger, horseradish, mint, chives, parsley, thyme
- Fish: lemon balm, lemon grass, fennel, dill, parsley, rocket, French tarragon
One of the nicest ways to enjoy herbs with meat is to simply make herb butter that is served with a sizzling chop or steak.
½ cup unsalted, softened butter
¼ cup mixed herbs, finely chopped (basil, chives, dill, parsley, thyme or tarragon)
1 teaspoon coarse sea salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
In a small bowl, mix all the ingredients until the herbs are well combined with the butter. Pack into a ramekin and cover with cling wrap. (Or place on waxed paper and shape the butter into a cylinder. Wrap and seal the ends.) Chill in the refrigerator until firm, for at least an hour. Herb butter can be stored in the fridge for about two weeks or in the freezer for a few months.
The perfect braai sauce
Chimichurri is a tangy, brightly coloured sauce from Argentina that is served with all their grilled meat. It consists of herbs, garlic and vinegar. Make it the day before your braai to allow the flavours to mature.
2 packed cups fresh Italian parsley leaves
4 medium garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
¼ packed cup fresh oregano leaves (or 4 teaspoons dried oregano)
¼ cup red wine vinegar
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
½ teaspoon coarse sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Finely chop the parsley, garlic and oregano in a food processor, and add the vinegar, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper. Once all the ingredients are finely chopped, add the oil in a steady stream while blending. Pulse a few times to combine everything. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for at least two hours and up to one day before serving. Before serving, stir and season as needed. The chimichurri will keep in the refrigerator for up to a week.
Fire from within
Chilli sauce in one form or another is also a part of the South African braai. Easily available chilli varieties include ‘Habanero’ (very hot), ‘Jalapeno’ (very hot), ‘Long Red Cayenne’ (very hot), ‘Serrano’ (hot), ‘Inchanga’ (hot) and ‘Thai Dragon’ (very hot). Chillies grow best in well-drained soil, in a position that receives morning sun and afternoon shade. This applies equally to chillies grown in pots. Water pots daily and feed twice a month with a liquid feed.
Watering is critical – chillies don’t respond well to overwatering or drying out. Chillies in the garden do best with deep watering twice a week in very hot conditions. Pick fruit regularly to encourage new flowers. As a braai accompaniment, serve a fresh chilli salsa consisting of chopped ripe, red tomatoes, chillies, onions and garlic, dressed with olive oil, lime juice, salt and pepper. Fresh coriander leaves and chopped parsley can also be added.
Spicy Herb Rubs
Purists like their meat unadorned, but there is merit in using a rub to tenderise or flavour meat. Here are two simple recipes:In a small spice or coffee grinder, coarsely grind black peppercorns, white peppercorns, fennel seeds, dried thyme and lavender flowers. Rub this mixture all over the meat. Wrap the meat tightly in cling wrap and refrigerate for at least two hours, but preferably overnight.
For a tasty chicken rub, combine garlic, salt, coarse black pepper and dried or fresh marjoram. Rub this into the chicken, and then leave it for a few hours or overnight before grilling. Also try different herbs and spices such as rosemary, cumin and chilli. Other flavourings such as honey, olive oil and mustard can also be used. When making dried mixtures add ½ teaspoon of herb salt and 1 tablespoon of brown sugar to the herbs and spices.
Fire up those herbs
One can literally braai herbs, by using them directly on the braai.
- If you are using wood or charcoal, soak branches of woody herbs in water for a few minutes and then lay them on the coals, just before you start to braai. The effect should be that the herbs smoulder and smoke, adding that fragrance to the meat, and also adding a pleasant aroma.
- Put moistened herbs on the grill and put the meat on top of the herbs. Have more herbs ready to place on the grill when you turn over the meat. Woody herbs are suitable for this, as is fennel.
- Using herbs in a Weber, or similar braai that can be closed, is even more effective because the aroma from the herbs is absorbed into the food.
- When grilling fish or vegetables in foil parcels, wrap herbs around the food before closing the foil.
- Make skewers from long, strong sprigs of stripped rosemary (‘Tuscan Blue’ is ideal), and soak them in water before threading the meat onto the skewers. One can also use rosemary branches as a basting brush.