Long, slow cooking works wonders on less expensive cuts of meat, which makes potjiekos an economical, one-pot way of feeding the gang in the great outdoors. Here are two great recipes and a bunch of brilliant tips.
Also read: 10 of the best potjie tips from Getaway readers.
Potjiekos is an art, not a science
Perfecting it requires practice, plenty of time and constant attention. The cast-iron pot retains heat brilliantly and the art of using that to your advantage is in achieving a sustained simmer, not lurching between a rapid boil (which toughens meat) and the heat dying out completely. The pot must be at a happy bubble, sometimes described as a ‘prrrt-ing’ sound. If it’s quiet, nothing is happening inside. Listen closely at all times. Resist the temptation to lift the lid too often, and to stir the stew. Preheat the pot over the coals and don’t be afraid to take it off the heat to maintain control and avoid burning, especially between browning meat and cooking onions, and when layering.
The No. 3 is a family-sized pot that will feed four to six. Make sure the lid seals properly. This is important for keeping steam in the pot, which forms condensation and creates liquid.
Use a hard wood, to create long-burning coals.
• Have a separate fire going to replenish coals.
• Regulate heat by moving coals closer to or further away from the pot.
• Arrange coals around the belly of the pot rather than directly underneath it.
Top potjie cooking tips
• Add very little liquid to start as more will be created during cooking – often only visible at the end.
• When adding liquid, always heat it first and pour it slowly down the side of the pot. Adding cold liquid to a hot pot can cause cracking.
• Avoid adding large quantities of tomatoes, vinegar, lemon juice or wine as the acidity reacts with the cast iron. Rather use water or stock.
• When layering ingredients, the pot should only be two-thirds full to allow room for the steam.
• Keep the lid on – lifting it too often will bring down the temperature (lengthening cooking time) and cause valuable steam to evaporate.
• When you do lift the lid, first tilt it so all the collected condensation runs back into the pot.
• Stir the potjie only just before serving. And do this gently with a wooden (not metal) spoon.
The basic ingredients
Potjiekos originated with slow-cooking cuts of mutton, ox or venison. Beef shin, oxtail and lamb knuckles and shank shine in a potjie.
• Cater for about 300g meat per person, including bone.
• Browning is vital for creating avour. Have the meat at room temperature and patted dry with paper towel to encourage a good sear.
• Layer a potjie with meat at the bottom and then add the vegetables, from slowest cooking to quickest cooking on top.
• Adding potatoes helps thicken the juices.
Butternut bredie potjie
Feeds 6 in a No. 3 potjie pot
2T mutton fat or beef lard or vegetable oil
1,5kg beef shin or stewing lamb/beef
2 large onions, chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 thumb-sized piece of ginger, finely grated
700g butternut, peeled and chopped
500g potatoes, peeled and chopped
300g sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped
1 small red chilli
4 cardamom pods
1 stick cinnamon
1 strip (about the length of your thumb) fresh orange peel
sea salt and black pepper
1⁄4 cup Van der Hum liqueur or sweet wine
1⁄2 cup boiling water or beef stock
cooked white rice, for serving
1. Place the pot over coals to heat through. Drop some fat in – when it sizzles the pot is hot enough. Melt all the fat in the pot and brown the meat in batches.
2. Remove the pot from the heat. Remove the meat, add the onions (they will start cooking in the residual heat) and stir constantly. Replace the lid. Rearrange the coals for low-heat cooking and place the pot back over the coals.
3. Cook the onions, stirring constantly, until nicely softened and reduced in mass. Add the garlic and ginger for the last minute or two and cook, stirring.
4. Remove the pot from the coals. Remove the onions. Layer the meat at the bottom of the pot with the butternut, potato and sweet potato on top.
5. Cut a slit into one side of the chilli. Place the cardamom pods on a board and press down on them with the face of a knife to crack them. Add both to the pot along with the other aromatics: cinnamon, bay leaf and orange peel. Add a pinch or two of salt and a generous grinding of black pepper. Then put the onions back in.
6. Mix the Van der Hum into the water or stock and add to the pot. Put the lid on and place the pot over the coals, arranging a few coals around the base of the potjie.
7. After 30 minutes, lift the lid and check there is steam rising in the pot and that it is simmering. Cook for 2 – 3 hours, keeping an ear to the pot and adding or removing coals to keep the potjie cooking at the same heat and speed.
8. Once the potjie is done, gently bring the meat up through the vegetables to incorporate all the ingredients. Serve.
Feeds 4 in a No. 2 potjie pot
125g streaky bacon, chopped
700g – 800g oxtail
2 onions, chopped
2 sticks celery, chopped
2 cloves garlic, nely chopped
2T tomato paste
2 bay leaves
1⁄2t white pepper
1 cup hot beef stock
6 small carrots, peeled and sliced
mashed potato, for serving
1. Place the pot over coals to heat through. Add the bacon and cook, stirring constantly, until fat has rendered and bacon is golden. Remove to a plate lined with paper towel.
2. Season the meat with salt, then brown the oxtail in the bacon fat.
3. Remove the pot from the heat. Remove the oxtail, add the onions and celery (they will start cooking in the residual heat) and stir constantly.
4. Rearrange the coals for low-heat cooking and place the pot back over the coals. Cook the onions and celery, stirring constantly, until nicely softened and reduced in mass.
5. Add the garlic for the last minute or two and cook, stirring. Add tomato paste and cook, stirring, until the mixture is brick red.
6. Remove the pot from the coals. Remove the onion mixture and layer the oxtail at the bottom. Then add the onion mixture back in, plus the cloves, bay leaves and white pepper. Add the stock.
7. Put the lid on, place the pot over the coals and arrange a few coals around the base of the potjie. After 30 minutes lift the lid and check there is steam rising in the pot and that it is simmering.
8. Cook for 3 – 4 hours, keeping an ear to the potjie and adding or removing coals to keep it cooking at the same heat and speed.
9. Add the carrots for the last 45 minutes of cooking. Give it a quick stir and serve.
What wine goes with a potjie?
There are two things to look for in a great potjie wine: something to pair with whatever’s in the pot, and something to drink all afternoon waiting for the meat to melt. In general, the soft and unctuous things that come out of cast-iron Dutch ovens love a soft wine, and easy-drinking Merlot will always do the job. On the other hand, more exotic concoctions and badass bredies respond better to big bold blends and wines with strong character. Start here…
For green cred
Feel-good vino doesn’t get much better than Woolies Organic Merlot (R45), specially bottled for the retailer by the award-winning kings of green wine, Stellar Winery. It’s super-quaffable, with a bit of cherry-chocolate, and has just the right level of smoothness and intensity to dance with silky stews.
Also read: What is ‘green’ wine?
The old-school choice
Historic Stellenbosch farm Hartenberg has been perfecting grape juice for 300 years – and the Cabernet Sauvignon Shiraz 2014 (with lots of other little bits) is a wonderful example of how good they are at it. A Classic Wine Trophy gold medallist, this red blend has spicy, savoury notes that make it perfect for a potjie with chilli, spices and other earthy aromatics in the mix. R82 a pop and they deliver all over the country.
A great-value rarity
For dark and gooey oxtail, the perfect partner is an Italian stallion called Nebbiolo. It’s rare and pricey in South Africa, but the community-minded co-op of Du Toitskloof (it employs 1600 workers and their families bene t from all sorts of upliftment programmes) comes to the rescue with a Nebbiolo 2013. It’s full of violets and undergrowth, but big in character after waiting about 10 months in oak before being allowed out to play. Order direct for R50.
Read the story in the August 2017 issue of Getaway magazine.
Our August issue features 14 Northern Cape treasures, a trip along Mozambique’s pristine beaches on a fat-bike, holidays to take if you want to learn a new skill and so much more.