If you’ve never been on an African safari, you’re likely asking, “What in the heck is a potjie?” It’s a killer one-pot meal worth knowing, as it tenderizes the toughest cuts of meat, and it can easily be Americanized for backyard fire pit cooking or deer camp delight. So, if you want to know how to make this tasty treat, read on.
Kudu shanks (can substitute other tougher cuts of wild game, including elk or venison shanks)
1 large onion
2 cloves of garlic
Zucchini (or baby marrow)
Tomatoes, fresh or canned
Salt & pepper
What is a Potjie?
The term potjie refers to the actual cooking vessel itself, a cast-iron cauldron that’s similar to a Dutch oven with little legs. The Dutch influence in South Africa is strong, and this one-pot dish is modern evidence. For a successful potjiekos recipe, cast iron that holds the heat must be used. The legs allow hot coals or embers to be refreshed beneath while the hot fire burns off to the side.
Indirect heat alongside keeps things slow cooking. The hunter nominated to tend the potjie will, from time to time, add hot coals to keep the pot at temperature. This type of cooking tenderizes even the toughest cuts of meat and makes our rutting kudu’s shanks a melt-in-your-mouth delicacy.
Build a fire, preferably from hardwoods to create lasting coals. Get the pot heating in the fire with just a bit of oil in the bottom to brown the meat and onion. Prepare the cuts of meat, trimming excess silver skin. Bones and all go into the potjie, with the marrow adding a wonderful flavor and treat later.
Lay the meat at the bottom of the pot to brown. Additional bones with marrow can be added for even greater flavor and allow the hunter to use oft-discarded cuts. Season the meat with salt and pepper or additional seasoning of choice. Allow the meat to brown over the heat before moving the pot away from the fire.
Chop the onion into large pieces and rough mince the garlic. Add the onion and garlic to the top of the meat. Place the covered pot to the side of the fire with coals beneath. Do not stir – or peek – for the first two hours. Check if the meat is getting done. If not, cover and cook for another 30-45 minutes.
After that, add the potatoes, carrots, green beans, and zucchini. The key is to add the vegetables at the right time so that they are tender enough when served but not falling apart. Cook roughly 20-30 minutes.
When you think the potjie is nearly done – within 10-15 minutes – add the whole mushrooms and tomatoes. If using canned tomatoes, the liquid may be added as well. Taste and add more seasoning if desired. When the final veggies are cooked tender, the potjie is ready.
Keys to a Successful Potjiekos
Very little liquid or seasoning is added, though you don’t want the pot to go dry. If necessary, add a little beef broth. While not much seasoning is used in this recipe, the potjie remains a flavorful, rustic, hearty dish. Any kind of seasoning can be used. Some folks enjoy curry in their potjie. Others go heavier on garlic. Make it to your taste.
Because it is generally not stirred, the meat at the bottom of the pot lends its flavors to the vegetables and ingredients above. Other than tending the fire, this is a low-maintenance camp meal that is sure to please. According to our South African campmates, making a successful potjie involves at least a few glasses of wine, brandy, or other beverages of choice.
The key to a successful potjie is enjoying the company of your hunting camp while it cooks, which often includes plenty of laughter and a few drinks of choice as well. This allows plenty of time to share stories from the hunt while the game cooks away. Cooking the potjie should take no less than three hours, and as many as six. The names of the potjie game are low, slow, and tender.
Serve the finished potjie with rice or homemade brown bread for a true South African-inspired comfort meal.