It’s hard to pinpoint the exact origin of this well-loved Southern African dish, but the overall agreement is that the tradition was brought down with the Dutch in 1652 when they introduced cooking in cast-iron pots. Regardless of its roots, the potjie has become ingrained in our culture. From traditional beef and vegetable potjies, to Indian-style lamb knuckle curry, everyone has their favourite variation. But what exactly are some of the top tips to make your potjie stand head and shoulders above the rest? General Manager of BON Hotel Swakopmund, Ross Hill, has been a chef for many years and has agreed to spill some of his mouthwatering tips to ensuring the perfect potjie.
Back to basics
The very first lesson we all learn when preparing a potjie, is the importance of layering your ingredients – and not stirring the pot until the very end. The point is to cook everything in one pot, thus the layering is crucial to achieving a thoroughly-cooked meal.
What makes this tip unique though, is that Ross believes that cooking over coals will result in a tastier pot than cooking over flames. The reasoning is simple: it’s easier to manage the heat from burning coals than open flames. The heat is disseminated better, and you’re able to cook your potjie evenly. It’s important to remember that preparing a potjie is a labour of love meant for large, hearty meals with friends and family, so even though the cooking process may take a while, it gives you time to spend with your loved ones as you prepare.
Another basic tip that’s often overlooked is the importance of using fresh vegetables, but if you must use frozen veg, make sure to thaw them completely to avoid having too much water in your pot.
Chicken or beef?
If you’re more inclined towards a chicken potjie, stick to using drumstick or thigh pieces as these hold flavour the best. Adding about a cup of Chardonnay makes a world of difference when paired with braised onions and other vegetables like baby corn and baby potatoes, which help thicken your sauce without the use of thickening agents. The wine will deglaze the flavours, which essentially lifts any flavour at the bottom of the pot, adding to the overall taste of the dish.
For those who prefer beef, it always comes down to the cut of meat you’ve chosen to use. Most popular of course is sliced shin, sliced short rib and sliced oxtail, which tastes better the longer it’s cooked. In contrast to chicken, red meat favours dark brews – think stouts like Guinness or a dark malt like Erdinger Dunkel. These brews will give your potjie a deep colour, deep flavour and rich taste. Remember to not add water too soon after your alcohol, as this will only dilute the flavour. Wherever you can, try to use stock instead.
Did you know that you could make a malva pudding in a potjie!
The best sauce
When you reduce your sauce, it’s important to remove the lid and cook the potjie on low heat. This will thicken the sauce perfectly. Never forget though, that the less liquid you add, the better, as most of the broth will only be visible closer to the end. A successfully cooked potjie is an absolute treat – well worth the effort! So, enjoy both the cooking and the flavours afterwards.