Meaty gold: Spiced Karan beef fillet steaks on the braai. Picture: tony jackman

Karan has become the supplier of note for South African beef. This is no small triumph. Few brands manage to become synonymous with what is regarded as the finest of its genre. To be identifiable by gourmands as supposedly the best beef in the country is something even the biggest advertising budget might not be able to buy. Perhaps it happened by some kind of meaty osmosis.

Whether or not marketing has something to do with the success of this operation, which is based at Heidelberg and Balfour in the northern reaches of the country (not the Heidelberg in the Cape), it’s doubtless that success has something to do with the terribly high price one has to pay to buy it.

It has become a favourite for top chefs in recent years, which has much to do with the high cost. When you’re in demand, people will pay, that’s the way of this materialistic world and there’s no getting away from it. The downside of this, of course, is that most of us won’t buy it, most of the time choosing the supposedly lesser yet more affordable cuts because that, too, is the way the supply and demand relationship works. High pricing can be a serious deterrent.

Having said all that, my local Pick n Pay was stocking a few whole fillets of Karan beef the other day, and once I’d picked myself up off the floor after seeing the price (R260 or thereabouts a kilo) I got brave and popped a slab in my trolley. Then I took it out again, pondered, picked it up, put it down, picked it up, sighed and thought, oh what the hell. Then I raced to the till before I could change my mind.

According to its website, Karan has been going since as long ago as 1974 when it had just 100 cattle. It claims today to have the largest feedlot in Africa with 120 000 head of cattle.

And part of one of them was now ready for my braai, leaving only 239 999 fillets, sold at the rate of two an animal. (I’m trying not to multiply that by R260, it’s too depressing.)


Beef fillet is the least flavourful cut of meat because it’s a muscle that the animal barely uses so it just sits there and doesn’t toughen up, but for a fillet this one had plenty of flavour, which will be a relief to my bank manager. Without wishing to alter the meat’s taste, I wanted to enhance it just enough to feel that I’d “done” something with it without defeating the object of having bought it in the first place.

So I got the Jamie Oliver flavour shaker out – still going strong after about four years, although looking just a little the worse for wear – and popped into it a teaspoon each of ground cumin, turmeric and dried chillies and a tablespoonful of dried red peppercorns, and gave it a thorough shake for three or four minutes. The crunchy powder that remained was patted over the meat, which I had first washed and patted dry and cut into slices about 5cm thick. Then I put the steaks into a stainless steel bowl, drizzled over some sesame oil (my new favourite condiment) and tossed it all about to rub the spices and oil into the meat, leaving it to marinate for a couple of hours. No salting yet; I left that for the braaiing.

Braaiing steaks is not the same as braaiing lamb or pork chops (in fact, braaiing pork chops is not the same as braaiing lamb either). You need superhot coals and the grid should be quite close to them. You need to turn the meat frequently, and keep turning it on each side so that it cooks evenly all over.

If you have any sense at all, you’ll want it medium rare and nothing more, which should take about eight minutes with all that turning, if the coals are hot enough. If they aren’t as hot as you’d like you might go for 10 or even 11 minutes, at a push. But rather remove them sooner and keep them warm. If you wrap them tightly in foil they will still cook a little more off the heat while tenderising. They should come out super-soft so that the knife simply glides through. Tie kitchen string around each fillet steak to hold its shape, a tip I picked up from Jan Braai.

Salt the steaks as you turn them on the braai, and don’t overdo it. If you have any remaining baste, dip them in it once while cooking them.

This is a diet-friendly way of cooking a steak, as the fillet has barely any fat to start with, sesame oil is much kinder to the waistline than butter, and the cut of meat, though expensive, has plenty of flavour in its own right, with those spices to jazz it up a bit.

We loved this recipe, which I had made up as I went along, so give it a try in this post-New Year phase of being a tad more circumspect about what we’re eating than we were two weeks ago.

Cheers to that and have a wonderful 2013.


Spiced Karan beef fillet steaks on the braai

5cm thick slice of beef fillet per serving

1 tsp ground cumin

1 tsp turmeric (borrie)

1 tsp dried chilli, very finely chopped

1 tbs red peppercorns, crushed

3 tbs sesame oil

Salt to taste - Sunday Argus