Sunday, 27 March 2011

Ben's Built-in Braai - Chapter 4

Three days into the English spring and we had been blessed with days of defiant sunshine. Ben and Tersia had finished painting and paving around their braai and saw it fit to invite us and some other friends around to celebrate.

Ben excelled himself and yet again proved how rich and diverse every day South African outdoor cooking actually is. Armed with a bag of lumpwood charcoal and a load of beautifully seasoned English ash we were in for a treat that none of us could have predicted.

In the true traditional way, he started with a selection of sausages, in this case there were three; venison, champagne and pork, and pork chorizo (my favorite), all sourced from our mutual friend and local butcher Clint at Denshams in Witney. Topped up with some corn on the cob and salad, this also served as the main meal for the small army of children who had been occupying themselves building a den of some sort.

King prawns marinated in garlic and lemon juice followed, served with a lemon mayonnaise and cooked on Ben's new Jamie Oliver perforated grilling plate.

Ben had both the braii and the Weber going as the main course included an intensely flavoured pork fillet filled with a herby smoked oyster stuffing that needed to be quickly baked in a hot kettle barbeque.

His venison loin chops were melt in your mouth stuff and were topped with a warm, sticky, home made barbeque sauce. Most bizzarely, the main course was also served with cheese, tomato and onion toasties, gently cooked over the dwindling embers in the braai tool. This was an unexpected treat and one I would highly recommend.

A generous salad of mixed leaves, avocado and olives made the perfect accompaniment to the main meal, both refreshing and robust.

This was a beautiful example of using fire at its best. Grilling sausages at a fairly high temperature over hardwood embers initially, followed by marinated prawns, then the venison chops cooked more gently, and finally the toasties. The Weber did its own separate job and sorted out the quickly roasted stuffed pork loin along side.

Tersia's radioactive waste pudding was another surprise. Crunchy green minty stuff chopped up and laid over the top of 'Tennis' biscuits (yes, and I don't know where that name came from from either, please enlighten me if you do). I've never had anything like this before. Intensely sweet and distinctively flavoured, I can see why South Africans hanker to re-live this experience. Well done and thank you to both of you.

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Haunch of Venison in the Weber

Wrapped in streaky bacon and stuffed with mushrooms, thyme and creme fraische, the 4kg haunch was enought to feed a small army. I used a third of it a a main course for a dinner party for 8 and so had plenty of leftovers.

On this occasion we opted for a very classic menu:

- Smoked salmon plate (discovered in 'Falling Cloudberries' by Tessa Kiros)
- Roast venison haunch with a red wine jus, roast potatoes and swede, steamed julienne carrots and purple sprouting broccoli
-Freshly made pavlova topped with whipped cream, strawberries, raspberries and blueberries

I ordered the venison from my friend and local butcher at Denshams in Witney. I asked for it to be 'tunnel boned' and hoped he might have some caul fat for me to wrap it in. Unfortunately not, so I bought some streaky bacon instead, just enough to cover the top and sides of the joint. He came up with an idea as he was serving me and presented a large fatty membrane from a beef flank. I decided to keep the bacon as well to put around the venison before wrapping the whole thing in the membrane.

Anxious not to risk disappointing my guests, I also bought a new meat thermometer as our old one had come apart some time ago.


You can make this in advance and then add the pan juices at the end.

- 1 bottle of red wine for cooking
- 1 red onion, finely chopped
- 1 medium carrot, finely chopped
- 1 stick of celery, finely chopped
- 1/2 litre of chicken stock
- 1 knob of butter
- 1 tablespoon of olive oil
- 1 tablespoon of double cream

Saute the vegetables in the butter and olive oil until soft, then add the wine and simmer it down to at least halve the volume. Add the chicken stock, and reduce it again. Knorr make a superb chicken stock powder labelled 'Chicken Powder' or 'Bot Ga' available in tins from most Chinese supermarkets. I affectionately call it 'powdered chickens' because I'm sure that's what it is! It tastes nothing like any chicken stock cube I've every tried.

Ideally you want to have a decent cup full of jus before straining it and adding the cream to bind it together. These quantities will happily do 8 serves. Allow a good hour or more to make a good jus and keep an eye on it. If you like, you can thicken the sauce with a basic roux but I prefer it just as it comes.


- 200g of mushrooms (any sort) finely chopped
- 1/2 red onion finely chopped
- 1 tablespoon of chopped fresh thyme leaves
- 1 big dollop of of creme fraische
- salt and pepper to taste
- 1 tablespoon of olive oil
- 1 knob of butter

Saute the onion in the olive oil and butter until soft before adding the mushroom and seasoning. Cook out all the moisture and allow to cool completely. Fold in the creme fraische and chopped thyme and set aside.

Venison is very lean so it needs to have fats introduced to help it along during the cooking. This stuffing is great as it provides fat in the centre of the meat to supplement the streaky bacon on the outside.


- Venison haunch (I had a whole thigh from a 25kg animal)
- Mushroom, herb and creme fraische stuffing (above)
- 8-10 rashers of streaky bacon
- kitchen string

Using a tea spoon, push the stuffing into the bone cavity of the venison with a spoon. Then, with two pieces of string tie both ends of the haunch to give it a nice round shape. Use a third piece of string to close up the ends of the haunch lengthways, but not too tightly or the joint will end out mis-shaped.

Drape the rashers of streaky bacon over the joint to provide plenty of basting fat for the roasting. On this occasion I then wrapped the whole thing in the fatty flank membrane and secured it with a few more pieces of string.

Place the venison on a narrow baking dish in the Weber to retain the juices for basting. I used my trusty pyrex dish which was barely big enough for this one.

Depending on how you like your venison done, a joint of this size will take up to 3 hours to cook in a Weber. I used lumpwood charcoal, a chimney starter full at the beginning (split into two indirect fires) and I topped up the fires twice with a couple of handfuls more charcoal during the cooking. This was also a good opportunity to baste the roast and to let the charcoal re-oxegenate.

Concerned about having the roast ready on time for my guests, I kept checking the inside temperature with the thermometer. Two hours in and the temperature was below the 'rare' scale and seemed to be climbing ever so slowly. I also noticed that the membrane covering was preventing the meat from browning so I made a last minute decision to remove it so I could give the venison a proper basting and hopefully accelerate the cooking for my hungry guests. Miraculously, the roast turned out perfectly, soft and moist on the inside and with loads of nice crispy bits on the outside. 65-70 degrees C at the centre of the roast is what you need to achieve.

Carve the meat thinly and serve with a generous helping of the jus. This is melt-in-your-mouth stuff. Unbelievably tender and intensely flavoured.


Eye food at its best. Meticulous preparation, intense colours, diverse flavours, the perfect appetiser to get the evening going.

- 200g Smoked salmon
- 2 small jars of Salmon caviar
- 24 cocktail Blinis
- 4 hard boiled eggs, white and yolks separated and finely chopped
- Large tablespoon of fresh dill, finely chopped
- 1/2 red onion, finely chopped
- 2 small lemons, filleted as below

To fillet the lemons, slice the top and bottom off of each lemon and sit it flat on the chopping board. Then remove the skin and pith with a small knife. Carefully cut out each segment by running the point of the knife down each side, remove any pips and put the segments in a small dish for use later. Squeeze any remaining juice out of the lemon 'skeleton' and keep it to drizzle over the salmon. Filleting a lemon was a new experience. It took half an hour to remove the fillets of two lemons, but hey, it was beautiful day and I did it sitting at the table bathed in sun in the conservatory.

Chop the red onion into super fine pieces and cover them in water with 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Let them soak for 1/2 hour or so before straining and rinsing them thoroughly.

Carefully assemble the ingredients on a plate and dress the salmon and caviar with the lemon juice. Warm the blinis in the oven for 5 minutes before serving.

FOR THE PAVLOVA (serves up to 12)

- 8 egg whites
- 2/3 cup of castor sugar
- 1 teaspoon of cornflour
- Vanilla essence
- 1/2 pt of whipping cream
- berries for the topping

Pre-heat the oven to 180 deg C. Beat the egg white on a high speed in a mixing bowl until softly stiff. Slowly add the castor sugar, cornflour and vanilla essence on a lower speed until thick and glossy. Using a spatula, put the pavlova mix out onto a flat baking tray lined with grease proof paper. Shape it into a round about 25cm in diameter and make a shallow well on top.

Bake it at 180 degrees for 20 minutes, and then at 120 degrees for a further hour. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely.

Just before serving, whip the cream, spread it over the top and dress with the berries.

I kept the left over egg yolks in the fridge and used them the following day to make fresh custard.

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