24 September is Heritage Day and that means it’s time to braai (like we need an excuse!). Spice things up at your next braai with the use of herbs to turn your meal from ho-hum to haute cuisine, and who better to show us how it’s done than SA’s gardening guru, Tanya Visser? Herbs can be used in rubs, marinades and to flavour butter for meat, vegetables or dressings, but you can also just add them to the coals for that amazing aroma. Here are some nifty ideas from Tanya on the 4 best ways to use herbs for the ultimate, flavourful braai:
1. Ideal braai-mates
Look away vegetarians – meat is always the star of a braai! A simple rule when deciding on which herbs to use is to match them with the meat as you would in conventional cooking. Here are some well-loved combinations:
Chicken: Rosemary, basil, parsley, savoury, 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
2. Herb butter
One of the easiest and most delicious ways to incorporate fresh herbs into your cooking is with an infused herb butter. Add a knob or two to your steak or sizzling chops for an incredible depth of flavour.
Here’s a simple recipe to make your own:
1/2 cup unsalted, softened butter
1/4 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.
3. The perfect braai sauce
If you haven’t tried a proper Chimichurri sauce, you’re going to want to now! It’s is a tangy, bright green herb sauce from Argentina that is served with grilled meat. It couldn’t be easier to make and consists of fresh herbs, garlic and vinegar. Make it the day before your braai to allow the flavours to marinate.
Here’s how to make your own Chimichurri sauce:
2 packed cups fresh Italian parsley leaves
4 medium garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
1/4 packed cup fresh oregano leaves (or 4 teaspoons dried oregano)
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoons red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoons 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.
4. Fire up those herbs!
Last but not least, you can literally braai herbs straight on the fire to get all those incredible aromas and fragrances to smoke through into your food. Here are some tips:
- If you are using wood or charcoal, soak branches of woody herbs like rosemary 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 directly 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 an idea), and soak them in water before threading the meat onto the skewers. One can also use rosemary branches as a basting brush.
For more information visit Tanya’s website here.