Tuesday, July 5, 2022

Chickens coming home to roast

In its current reincarnation, the braai stand is heaving under extra load. There once was a time when red was the only colour you would see on the grill but thanks to the emergence of the chicken butcher shop and laxity on the part of bye-law officials in enforcing the no-braai law, the backyard grill package has begun to add shades of white meat.

The history first. It used to be that people freely braaied beef at butcheries and bars but sometime in late 2008, a new law that banned this decades-old social custom was introduced. Butcheries made a (second) killing from braaing and when this law went into effect, some of them were forced to retrench staff. However, along the way enforcement fatigue set in and braai stands are re-emerging though they have yet to reach the scale of the first coming.

Alongside this development is the emergence of the chicken butcher shop which sells directly to members of the public than through the oft-difficult route of supermarkets. This butcher sells a wide variety of both fresh and frozen chicken products. For its braai stand, fresh poultry meat cuts like thighs, wings and gizzards suffice.

Those whose level of distress about braaing prompted them to ban it in the first place would be none too pleased with this turn of events but the reality is that this is a deeply entrenched custom in Southern Africa. In South Africa, there is the Mzansi Braai Institute which in 2005, instituted the Braai Day that is now celebrated annually as part of the Heritage Day on September 24. Emeritus Archbishop Desmond Tutu has been patron of this day for five years now. This initiative also has the blessing of the country’s National Heritage Council.

The discarded beer-case boxes serve as the tray on which the meat is rubbed with condiments and oil before cooking. The odd braaier bastes the meat with beer as he (and sometimes she) grills it over an open flame. Because scientific research serves more than one master, there are noted pluses and minuses with regard to the latter practice. On one hand, some studies suggest that charring muscle meats create cancer-causing compounds called heterocyclic amines (HCAs). On the other, the beer is supposed to add flavour and colour and to also tenderise the meat as the alcohol penetrates and breaks down tissues. In fact, a German chemist named Udo Pollmer claims that the use of beer while grilling meat inhibits the creation of HCAs.

Then again where braai is concerned, retailers and a majority of customers seem only too happy to overlook some quite basic food hygiene practices. Some years ago, a female Motsweding FM presenter pointed this out by sharing with listeners what she had observed on many a Sunday afternoon. Men, she said, typically don’t wash their hands after visiting the bathroom and would use those same hands crawling with germs to handle the braai meat. “Borre ka boatla,” she sneered over the airwaves, her silken voice marinated in mouth-twisting disgust. On the other hand, retailers don’t bother much with the cleanliness of the grill and that doesn’t seem to reduce the number of patrons who gather around the braai stand.

Courtesy of the chicken butcher shop, gizzards have been introduced as a grill delicacy. The result of disembowelling done under unsanitary conditions is that the fat rolls around gizzards collect specks of dirt which both retailers and customers ignore when the meat is braaied. One too many customers simply thread the gizzards onto soaked wooden skewers and throw them on the grill, (with the bottoms of the skewers extending past the edge of the grill) and during the cooking, the dirt becomes one with the meat.

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