How to Make a South African Potjiekos (Small Pot Food)
This traditional South African way of cooking a tasty pot stew must be combined with having friends around, lots of time, and good cheer. You will need a number of hours to cook this food.
Potjiekos (pronounced poy kie coarse) is a traditional South African method for cooking meat, and a variety of vegetables, all together in a single pot. It is best if cooked in a heavy three-legged cast iron pot over a slow coal fire, or, in winter, over a slow, cool gas flame. I have cooked a Potjiekos on my gas stove in the kitchen, it works really well.
Any meat and vegetables can be used, the key lies in knowing which of the veggies will cook fastest, and which will cook slowest. There is no correct combination of ingredients, and no correct cooking time, this is determined by what ingredients are used. The method and recipe provided here, makes use of lamb and vegetables, herbs and spices, red wine and water.
The aim of this method of cooking, is to layer the meat and vegetables in the pot, and to cook them slowly with a combination of heat and steam.
You will need:
a. If you are cooking on a coal fire
A bag of long-burning coal or briquettes
A three-legged cast-iron pot with a lid that seals well. The recipe is designed for use with a number 3 pot which has a volume of just less than 8 litres.
If you do not have a three-legged pot, any similar-sized, thick-bottomed pot will do, but ensure that it will be thick enough to prevent the contents from becoming too hot and burning. Provide supports to lift the pot above the coal fire.
Make two small coal fires, apart from one another. One will be your cooking fire, the other will be a hot-coal stock fire which you should keep fed to ensure a supply of hot coals for your cooking fire.
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b. Gas fires
Whatever gas fire you use, it should be of such a nature that the flames can be adjusted hotter of colder.
Please do not leave either fire unattended if there are children near by.
Ingredients for a lamb shank and vegetable potjiekos.
1 kg mutton shank, cut into slices and left on the bone
200 g onions, sliced and diced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
500 g potatoes, peeled and coarsely cubed or cut into pieces.
250 g fresh green beans, left whole, or cut in half.
250 g butternut squash, peeled and cut into medium-sized pieces.
4 spring onions, chopped into small pieces
3 or 4 tomatoes, skinned and chopped into pieces
Fresh Basil to taste.
15 ml fresh rosemary or 5 ml dried
Red wine or beer (optional), 300 mls of meat or vegetable stock
Have a thick cloth or oven gloves handy for handling the hot pot or its lid, and have tongs available for transferring coals from your stock fire to the cooking fire.
Prepare your meat and vegetables before starting to cook.
Place the pot on the coal or gas fire, at low heat, and allow it to heat up.
Add an amount of cooking oil to the pot, enough to brown the meat and onions. Allow the oil to reach a good cooking temperature. Control the heat of the coal fire by adding or removing coals, as required.
Add the onions and allow them to cook rapidly until they appear glassy, then add the meat and mix it in with the onions. Allow the meat to brown, the adjust the heat down until the meat is barely cooking. flatten the layer of meat and onion in the bottom of the pot. Add the pieces of tomato on top of the meat in a layer. This will provide liquid for the cooking process.
Add the pieces of potato in a layer on top of the meat and tomato layer, then sprinkle the salt, pepper, basil and rosemary on top of the potato layer.
Add the butternut squash in a layer on top of the potato layer.
Add the beans and spring onions in a layer on top of the butternut squash layer.
Add the meat or vegetable stock, or half of the vegetable stock together with half the beer or wine. Add liquid until it can just be seen below the top layer in the pot.
Put the lid on the pot, and do not remove it again until cooking is done.
Adjust the heat beneath the pot until the liquid can just be heard “prting” slowly in the pot.
Leave the potjie to cook the ingredients. The lid of the pot should be felt from time to time. When it is first put on the pot it will be cold. The pot should slowly heat up from the bottom, until the lid is just too hot to touch
Allow the potjie to cook for 2 – 3 hours with the lid in place. After 3 hours, remove the lid. The top layer of beans should be cooked and tender. If not, replace the lid and allow further cooking until the beans are cooked.
Remove the potjie from the fire, taking care to avoid burning your hands, and place it on a suitable surface.
Dish the food directly from the potjie using a large serving ladle.
The potjiekos can be accompanied by a variety of side dishes of your choice. It is usual to serve a pot-bread, but rice or traditional African phutu are favourite accompaniments.
In South Africa the cooking of the food in the potjie is a social event, and friends sit around the fire enjoying each other’s company, and cold beer and wine.
Vegetarians can cook a potjiekos in the same way, without the meat. Cooking times of vegetable potjiekos should be adjusted to suit the ingredients used.