There is nothing more quintessential in South African cooking culture than a ‘potjie’. Notice I did not say ‘cuisine’, as it is a tough task to lift the game of a stew. This traditional means of cooking has cult status in some quarters and is a fantastic outdoor and social cooking technique. With a bit of creativity, there is nothing you cannot cook in one of these bad boys.
Also known as a ‘Dutch oven’, the secret of a potjie is right process, right heat and PATIENCE. We decided to do a potjie with a twist – ala Moroccan lamb tagine in a pot. Armed with some ice cold Striped Horse craft beers and a spice mix inspired by this recipe we went for it.
Follow the same technique as you would a stove top stew. Soften your onions and brown the lamb, which has been rubbed with the spice mix as per the recipe. The aromas that emerged were gob-smacking. And so many hours to go! We added a few cans of tomato and a sachet of tomato paste – a bit too tomatoey in the end, so will hold back next time. The spice mix was stunning and will be repeated.
With a potjie you are not supposed to remove the lid once the cooking has begun in earnest. Building up heat and aromatic steam is important. So how do you check the pot? A trick is to take a wooden spoon – place the bowl part on the pot lid and the handle edge against your ear – pressing down the lip before the ear cavity. The spoon acts as a telephone into the pot. With practice you can hear if your pot is bubbling too fast or dribbling along.
While all the process and pot prep and clean up may seem like a fag, it is an incredible social way of slow cooking. With good company and conversation, the potjie becomes the meeting and melting point in the middle of great experiences.