Skip to content

A birthday potjie

December 30, 2011

It was my birthday yesterday and I had some friends round to the guest house to celebrate with me. I decided to treat them to a traditional “potjie”, slowly cooked on our braai, while we sat outside in the garden on a delightfully warm summer evening, and chatted over a glass or two.

In South Africa, potjiekos (pronounced poik-ee-kos) literally translated “small pot food”, is a stew prepared outdoors. It is traditionally cooked in a round cast iron three-legged pot, the potjie, brought from the Netherlands to South Africa in the 17th century and found in the homes and villages of people throughout southern Africa. The pot is traditionally heated outdoors using small amounts of wood or charcoal.

Potjiekos originated with the Voortrekkers, evolving as a stew made of venison and vegetables (if available), cooked in the potjie. As trekkers (pioneers) shot wild game, it was added to the pot. The large bones were included to thicken the stew. Each day when the wagons stopped, the pot was placed over a fire to simmer. New bones replaced old and fresh meat replaced meat eaten. Game included venison, poultry such as guinea fowl, wart hog, bushpig, rabbit and hare.

The potjie, with a bit of cooking oil inside, is placed on a fire until the oil has been sufficiently heated. Meat is added first, depending on the preference of the cook. This can be anything from lamb or pork to biltong. The meat is spiced and often a form of alcohol is added for flavour – mostly beer, Old Brown Sherry or a dessert wine.

When the meat is lightly browned, vegetables like potatoes and mielies (corn on the cob) are added, along with whatever spices are needed. Water or other liquids may or may not then be added, depending on the views of the potjie chef. The lid is then closed and the contents left to simmer slowly without stirring. This distinguishes a potjiekos from a stew that is stirred. The aim is that the flavours of the different ingredients mix as little as possible. Little sauce or water is used, so that cooking is by steam and not boiling in a sauce like a stew; thus the heat must be very low and constant. A potjie is usually accompanied by rice, breads or pasta, although we had some nice fresh salad on the side.

Here are a couple of recipes – although not entirely authentic, you can cook in an ordinary stewpot or casserole dish on the hob or in a slow oven. The important thing is not to stir the dish while it is stewing, or it simply becomes a stew.

Curry Neck of Mutton Potjie
30 ml cooking oil
salt and pepper to taste
1.5 kg neck of mutton, cut into slices
3 medium onions, chopped
250 ml water
500 g whole baby carrots, peeled
500 g whole baby potatoes, peeled
20 ml sugar
10 ml mild curry powder
5 ml turmeric
125 ml milk

Heat the oil in the pot. Season the meat with salt and pepper and brown a few pieces at a time. Remove and set aside. Fry the onions until tender. Return the meat to the pot. Cover the meat with water, replace lid and simmer for 1 hour.
Add the carrots and potatoes and simmer for approximately 30 minutes. 
Mix the sugar, curry powder and turmeric with the milk and add. Simmer for another 15 minutes and gently stir through once. Add more water if the potjie becomes too dry and simmer for another 15 minutes.

Oxtail Potjie – probably the tastiest potjie recipe
500g Oxtails cut 2 inches thick pieces
10 slices Bacon cut in 1 inch pieces
½ cup Flour seasoned with salt and pepper
1 litre beef stock
1 can tomato paste
1 Bay leaf
6 black peppercorns
1 bouquet garni
6 large leeks, chopped coarsely
2 large onions, chopped coarsely
6 large carrots, chopped coarsely
20 button mushrooms
1 cup red wine
½ cup sherry
½ cup cream
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons crushed garlic

1. Dry oxtails with paper towel.
2. Put seasoned flour in a Ziplock bag, then add the Oxtail and shake to coat with flour.
3. Heat butter and olive oil and sauté bacon pieces.
4. Remove bacon and brown Oxtail in resulting fat, remove and drain.
5. Finely dice 4 of the carrots. Coarsely chop the onions and the leeks.
6. Add the finely diced carrots, leeks, onions and sauté until softened
7. Add Oxtail, bacon, bouquet garni, bay leaf, peppercorns, garlic, tomato sauce, red wine, sherry.
8. Bring slowly to a boil and cook slowly for 3 – 4 hours.
9. 1 hour before serving cut the remaining carrots into 1 inch pieces, add them and mushrooms and continue cooking slowly.
10. Just prior to serving, add cream and stir in.
11. If you want to thicken the sauce mix some cornstarch with the cream before adding.

Advertisements
Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: