Book Review: Le Braai

Braai with a bit of je ne sais quoi

Kobus Botha

Struik Lifestyle

Penguin Random House

Review: Brian Joss

I can’t quite picture the scene: a braai fire, near the Seine, where Kobus Botha conjures up delicious dishes in Paris where cooking with fire has been largely forgotten. Botha, who has his roots on a farm in the Klein Karoo, went to nine different schools, and two universities, before taking up a career as a film producer that took him all over world is now braaiing for the beloved country, what he calls the ‘jazz of cooking’  in the French capital. 

Botha opened several restaurants in France and now runs a renowned barbecue business. He does big events such as the Rhone Valley wine tasting for 5 000 guests from around the world as well as intimate braais at villas in Bordeaux and on the rooftops of Paris.

A braai is all about feeling, whether you’re enjoying one in Paris or Parys. Botha writes: “You need to use all your senses to know if the food is cooked; whether the seasoning is good and how to combine ingredients. Sight, smell, touch, of course taste, and even hearing, will be your kitchen instruments to play wonderful, delicious music that will delight your audience.”

In the first few pages Botha discusses braai equipment; preparing the fire, whether to use wood, charcoal or gas; choosing the ingredients (vegetarians can braai too, using fruit and vegetables),  and taking care of your braai (which means doing almost nothing).

Then we get to the meat of the book, the recipes, and the headings are Cooking On A Stick;  Meat and Poultry; Fish and Seafood; Sides, vegetable, fruits and breads and Salads and rubs.

Cooking On A Stick features recipes for Chicken Sosaties; Lamb Kidney and Liver Skewers; Stick Bread;  Mushroom Skewers and the popular American dish, S’mores for those with a sweet tooth and you can use jam, or salted caramel butter to give it a twist. Other deserts that you can try are Grilled Grapes With Vanilla and Nuts; Spicy Pineapple or Bananas With Chocolate and Cream that are included in the chapter Sides, vegetable, fruits and breads.

Carnivores are spoilt for choice and each dish sounds more mouth-watering than the other. Perfect Prime Rib and Baked Potatoes with chive cream; Entrecote Steaks (or deboned rib-eye) with a Green Salad and Braaied Potatoes; Veal Breast with Flat Beans or 100% Braai Burgers, are just some in the chapter Meat and Poultry, where you’ll find lots of ways to braai lamb, from chops to  spare ribs. Pork is also on the menu in the shape of Caramelised Pork Chops with Brinjals or unusually, an Asian-style Pork Belly Sandwich. You can also make your own sausage. There is a recipe for Spatchcocked Chicken with grilled sweetcorn that you can turn into a “gourmet” treat or just tasty and delicious. Botha says the chickens in France are among the best in the world, the “chicken tastes of chicken”.

Perhaps our chicken farmers can learn something from their French counterparts.

If you enjoy Fish and Seafood then Whole Mullet with Flatbread; Tuna Steaks with Rice Salad;  Grilled Crayfish with Sumac Butter or Grilled Octopus with Origanum will appeal.

The chapter Side Dishes: Vegetables, Fruits and Breads is self-explanatory. Garlic Brinjals, Brussels Sprouts, Cauliflower and Swis Chard or Sweet Potato Papilottes wth Ginger and Orange will appeal to your vegan and vegetarian friends. But they will also make tasty accompaniments with the main meal. Botha also provides a recipe for Basic Bread Dough which you can use to make braai rolls. There is a choice of salads from Potato Salad to Bulgur Salad with Apricots and Peaches. There is also a selection of do-it-yourself rubs including a basic rub and a ginger-curry rub, that “goes with everything”.

Le Braai will help you lift your braai out of the ordinary to the extraordinary. Photography is by Jan Hendrik Van der Westhuizen.

* Je ne sais quoi means something that cannot be adequately described or expressed.

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