Beef fillet braaied in a cloth
Serves 6 Preparation time 5 minutes Cooking time 18 minutes
This might sound crazy but it’s an old technique the Colombians use to braai meat directly on the coals that recently became popular after the US culinary author Steven Raichlen wrote about it in Planet Barbecue!. It’s a very simple method that anyone can master, and also happens to be the best way I’ve ever used to cook fillet on the coals. Apart from the dramatic impact of placing the meat onto the coals wrapped in a cloth, it also cooks evenly all the way through and remains juicy, with a melt-in-the-mouth texture and delicious smoky flavour. But, best of all, this is the easiest way to prepare fillet for a group of people. There’s no guesswork involved and the recipe truly is flop-proof. Just wait for the moment when you cut away the charred cloth to reveal a perfect piece of meat!
The big secret? Make sure the coals are hot, that the meat is put onto the coals immediately after you wrap it up covered in salt, and that everything else is ready so you can eat as soon as the meat is cooked.
• 1 whole beef fillet of about 1,2kg
(you’ll need at least 150g per person) • 1 clean cotton dishcloth • 1 glass (200ml) red wine • 3 cups (750ml) coarse sea salt or
kosher salt • herbs of your choice – try 5 sprigs
rosemary, oreganum or thyme • string made of natural fibres • chopped herbs of your choice to serve
This is how Get everything ready
Prepare a large pile of coals in your braai – use hardwood for lovely hot coals, which must be ready before you continue with the rest of the recipe. Once the meat has been wrapped in the cloth, it has to be on the coals within 15 minutes or the moisture it contains will cause the salt to melt and the meat will absorb too much of it. The purpose of the salt is to make a thick crust that protects the fillet.
Use a long, clean cloth that’s 5cm longer than the length of the fillet and wide enough to wrap around the meat twice – a dishcloth, two layers of cheesecloth or an old sheet you’ve cut up would work well.
Clean the fillet – remove any sinews or membranes – and ensure that the meat is of equal thickness (remove the thin tip or fold it back and secure with toothpicks or string).
Soak the cloth in the wine, wring it out slightly and spread it on a work surface. Sprinkle the salt in an even layer about a ½cm thick onto the cloth, followed by the herbs.
Place the meat lengthwise on the edge of the cloth and roll it up tightly like a sausage, so that the cloth winds around the meat twice. Fold in the free edges as you roll up the meat and use string to secure the meat parcel tightly. You should now have a sturdy cylindrical shape.
Place the meat parcel directly onto the hot coals. If you are using a kettle braai, it won’t be necessary to use the lid, but you could if the coals aren’t hot enough or if it’s windy. I placed three hot coals on top of the parcel too. The coals should be hot enough for the cloth to catch alight here and there – don’t worry if it looks like the whole lot is turning to ash. After exactly 9 minutes, turn the parcel and arrange it so that it rests snugly in the hot coals. Remove the meat after exactly another 9 minutes.
Test the meat with a thermometer if you like – I had to use a sharp metal skewer to poke a hole in the cloth through which to slide the thermometer. Insert the thermometer into the centre of the meat. If the internal temperature is between 52ºC and 58ºC, the meat is medium. Remove it from the coals sooner rather than later. Allow the whole parcel to rest for 5 minutes while you heat the tomato butter sauce.
Use a sharp knife or a pair of scissors to cut open the parcel. (Don’t get a fright if the meat seems pale! Once the sauce is poured over, it will look mouthwatering and, believe me, it tastes delicious.) Remove the fillet from the crust, wipe off any salt and place it on a clean wooden board. Brush a tablespoon or two of melted butter or olive oil over the meat and garnish with chopped herbs.
Heat the tomato butter sauce (recipe opposite), slice the fillet at the table and serve together – the sauce will keep the meat warm.
Okay, here we go To serve