Spice rubs and marinating before cooking or grilling can mean the difference between a good piece of meat and in this instance, the best smoky beef fillet ever! As a nation of braai-obsessed South Africans, we know how to light the fires and take outdoor cooking to the next level.
Inexpensive and versatile, spice rubs are my go-to ingredient when it comes to imparting flavour into meat bound for the coals. In the cooler months when comfort is king, my trusty cast iron pots are home to hearty bone-in beef stews. Left to splutter away for hours, tougher cuts of beef are rendered spoon-tender and softly yielding. That said, when the weather heats up and we head outside for leisurely summer braais, it’s a succulent beef fillet that I’m after. Prized for its buttery soft texture, fillet is considered the Rolls-Royce of steers. Although it requires little effort in the way of cooking, accurate timing and sturdy flavoring is key to its success.
Delivering the perfect steak comes with a unique set of challenges. With meagre traces of fat marbling, keeping fillet tender and juicy can be tricky. Fat content of meat imparts distinctive flavour while simultaneously serving as a built-in baster. Having less fat to slow the internal temperature, it’s easily overcooked, at times resembling more of a well-worn leather loafer than your favourite steakhouse classic. Timing and convincing flavour partners are thus vital to achieving ultimate fillet steak success.
Don’t let this deter you. Help is at hand in the form of this homemade master spice blend. I’m going to call it Smoky Joe’s Essential Braai Spice Rub because it sounds like the kind of concoction I’d like to have in my kitchen arsenal. It’s great with red meats, chicken, fish and especially good with flash-fried buttery prawns. The spice rub gets its sassy attitude from a mix of smoky paprika, cumin and Natura Sugars Light Muscovado sugar. Aggressively seasoning the meat with the dry rub delivers big flavours with a deeply caramelized crust. So good!
Debating the accepted degree of ‘doneness’ is best avoided. I’m going to leave that entirely up to you. Suffice to say – the term, well done, in carnivore circles, means overdone. Rare or medium-rare is the goal for succulency.
Three golden rules to keep in mind for barbecue perfection – Food, Smoke and Flame. Roast slightly longer, if you prefer, and serve with a chunky lemony salsa verde.
Smoky Joe’s beef fillet with salsa verde
Spice rub ingredients
- 1 1/2 tablespoons flaky sea salt
- 2 heaping tablespoons smoked paprika
- 4 teaspoons dried oregano
- 1 heaped tablespoon ground cumin
- 2 tablespoons Natura Sugars Light Muscovado sugar
- 10ml (2 teaspoons) freshly ground black pepper
- 5ml (1 teaspoon) celery salt
- 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1 kg grass fed beef fillet
Lemony salsa verde
- a handful of each, flat leaf parsley and basil, roughly chopped
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 2-3 anchovy fillets
- zest of 1 lemon
- 1 tablespoon capers
- 1 teaspoon Natura Sugars Golden Caster sugar
- 15ml (1 tablespoon) red wine vinegar
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
- salt and freshly ground black pepper
- To make the spice rub, combine all the ingredients in a bowl.
- Store the spice rub in a well-sealed tin or mason jar and secure with a tight fitting lid.
- To prepare the meat start by patting the fillet dry with paper towel.
- Tie the fillet with butcher or kitchen string at a spacing of 2cm between each knot.
- Scatter about 3 – 4 tablespoons of the spice rub onto a board and roll the fillet in the dry spice mix. Press in by hand until the entire surface is covered evenly with the dry rub.
- Place the meat in a non-metallic dish and cover with cling film. Set aside for at least 1 hour to marinate. If time allows, place in the fridge overnight for the best results. Remember to bring the meat up to room temperature before cooking or barbecuing.
- Drizzle the fillet with olive oil and scatter with sea salt. Grill over hot coals until done to your liking. Turn regularly to ensure even cooking. Remove the fillet from the heat, cover with foil and rest for about 8 -10 minutes before carving.
- For stovetop cooking, heat a large pan until smoking hot. Drizzle the fillet with olive oil and sear in the hot pan. Cook for about 2 minutes per side and finish in a 200° C oven for 18 – 23 minutes or until done to your liking. Remove from the oven, cover and rest for 8 – 10 minutes before carving.
- To prepare the salsa verde, place the herbs, garlic and anchovy fillets in a pestle and mortar with 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil. Work together until the herbs are broken down and the anchovies have melted into a paste.
- Alternative, if you prefer a smoother consistency, place the ingredients in a processor and pulse together.
- Add the remaining ingredients and stir through to combine. Keep chilled until ready to use.
- Serve the fillet lashings of salsa verde, platters of bright summery salads and parsley butter new potatoes.