Fancy hosting a tasty braai? Chef Benny has got your back with these ultimate tips
One of the foremost chefs in Mzansi, Benny Masekwameng has come a long way from his humble beginnings in Alexandra, when the youngster would give his mother a hand selling vetkoek, fried fish, and Russians to local patrons.
Eventually, he graduated from Natal Technikon with a diploma in Catering Management, which landed him in-service training at the Hilton Durban. The chef went on to travel the world, showcasing African food and building an impressive resumé. Chef Benny ultimately landed the first of his television gigs when he joined the judging panel on the successful reality TV show MasterChef South Africa. Since then, he has become one of the country’s favourite chefs.
Currently, he is working on the latest season of The Ultimate Braai Master. “What I most enjoy about The Ultimate Braai Master is how the show’s diversity unites everyone around one fire. I really enjoy the innovation and creativity that this diverse group brings to the show,” he says. Returning for a seventh season, Chef Benny will again be joined by partner-in-crime Pete Goffe-Wood and host Justin Bonello.
In a full-circle moment, he recalls how his experiences on the streets of Alex had a hand in his love for one of the country’s favourite pastimes. “In my younger days there weren’t many shisa nyama spots, but I recall a guy who used to live in our yard. Every time he washed his car on a Saturday, he would buy meat and I would braai it for him.”
With his love of food and people, Chef Benny hopes to share his knowledge with even more people — something he already does regularly on his social media platforms. “I enjoy cooking and teaching people what I know. My mother instilled a quality in me that helped open many doors for me and, of course, that character leads people to identify in me a persona that is warm and approachable,” he says.
The Ultimate Braai Master premiered on-screen on e.tv on September 25.
Chef Benny’s Braai Tips
“Because we’ve been eating a lot of heavy food throughout winter, I want something lighter to welcome the new warmer season. South Africans typically like to braai prime cuts such as beef rump and rib-eye steak, but for this year’s national braai day I suggest preparing chicken, pork Russians, fish, prawns, and wors.”
Prep Like A Pro
“Prepare your ingredients three hours in advance. A braai is not something you want to do last minute. Season your meat or fish ahead of time and leave it at room temperature so that it’s not ice-cold when it hits the coals. Your fire must always have two sides: a low-coal side and a high-coal side, which is hotter. When you are ready, start with the longest-cooking dishes, especially your chicken and thick-cut meat.
“If you’re cooking chicken, start on the low-heat side until you can get it cooked right to the bone. Finish it off on the high-heat side to give it that lovely golden-brown colour on the outside. Baste your chicken 15 to 10 minutes before taking it off the fire.
“Avoid using marinade because it contains a lot of sugar, and sugar burns quickly. Alternatively, use normal spices like salt and pepper, or baked-bean sauce on the side. When you cook, gently brush your meat with the sauce.”
“Baste your vegetables like carrots, peppadews or onions with balsamic oil or salt and pepper, cover them with foil, and place them on the low-heat side of the coals for 10 to 15 minutes. Your plain bread can also be added on the low-heat side for 5 minutes.
“We also need a fresh salad that has a mixture of cucumbers, arugula, lettuce, and multi-coloured chilli tomatoes — and parsley for added flavour. For our carbohydrates, potatoes and plain bread will do.”
Servings: 6 to 8
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 60 minutes
Total time: 1 hour 15 minutes
Butter, to grease the baking dish
4-5 potatoes, peeled and sliced very thin
1 cup parmesan cheese, finely grated
3 cups cream
3 tbsp fresh thyme, finely chopped
1 tbsp garlic, chopped
Salt & black pepper
In a large mixing bowl, toss the potatoes with the salt and pepper until evenly coated.
Arrange the potato slices, edges overlapping, in a single layer on the bottom of the pre-buttered baking dish. Sprinkle some of the garlic and thyme over the potato layer. Repeat until all the potato slices are used.
Pour the cream over the top potato layer and sprinkle the cheese over the top.
Place in the oven and bake, uncovered, at 180°C for about an hour, or until the potatoes are tender when pierced with a knife and golden brown on top.
Let the dish settle on the counter for about ten minutes.
Sprinkle with fresh thyme, and serve with braai meat or fish.
Spicy Coconut and Peppadew Sauce
2 red onions, finely chopped
1 green pepper, finely chopped
100g peppadews, chopped
1 tbsp garlic, chopped
400ml coconut cream
1/2 bunch coriander, chopped
1 tbsp tomato paste
3 tbsp Cajun spice mix
Salt & black pepper
Sauté the onions, green pepper, and garlic until soft.
Add the tomato paste and cook for another minute.
Add the peppadews and coconut, bring to the boil over medium heat, and reduce until half.
Add the coriander and let simmer for 5 minutes.
Remove from heat and serve. It goes well with braai chicken or whole fish.