Warm evenings entice us to venture outdoors and there is no better time to experiment with some potjie cooking. Camping and outdoor activities are the perfect way to get out and relax at a social distance with friends, for a good catch up around the fire while your potjie meal simmers.
Some potjie historical facts
Potjie cooking dates back to the 1500’s in Europe. The Dutch settlers who arrived in Cape Town in 1652 brought this method of cooking to Africa and called these pots “Dutch Ovens”. They used the pots for baking bread as well as for casseroles. The Voortrekkers used a cast iron pot called a “potjie” which they placed over coals every evening to prepare rich stews of wild game meat and vegetables. Zimbabweans have embraced these versatile pots, and names now include bhodho, desboom and Pangoro …
How to choose your potjie pot
First, choose the right size pot for the number of people you are cooking for. At 7,8 litres, a #3 pot is easily big enough for a family of 6. Your experienced friends will readily share their special tips on potjie cooking, but there are also several excellent sites to gain hints and advice on potjie cooking. Getaway’s How to Master the perfect potijie article is very helpful.
Simmer “potjiekos” slowly over open coals for several hours. This method of cooking is a very economical way to feed a large group of people. Cheaper cuts of meat can be used because the slow cooking process allows the meat to tenderise and the stock and spices infuse into the stew mixture. The final product is a rich, tasty, and wholesome stew, packed full of vegetables and goodness.
Fundamental steps to the “art” of Potjie Cooking
- Prepare your coals – the key is to simmer your potjie meal, not boil it away to nothing. By having a second fire available you can top up your coals if necessary.
- Ensure your potijie lid fits securely and grease the pot beforehand including the lid.
- Follow the cooking directions from your favorite recipe book. Stick to the recommended cooking time.
- Spices and condiments are vital to enhancing the flavours in the pot. Experiment as you go along because this is what makes potjie cooking so much fun.
- Layer your meat and then place your vegetables in layers on top of the meat. The harder, slower cooking vegetables, potatoes, and carrots will go in first. Layer softer vegetables like mushrooms near the top or even add later.
- Lastly, add your liquid, replace the lid, and leave your mixture to cook. Do not be tempted to stir the potjie, this is the potjie “rule”! As long as the coals are not too hot it will not burn.
Importance of coal in potjie cooking
Don’t put too much heat directly under the pot. Arrange the coals around the edge of the pot not directly under the base. The meat and vegetables must simmer. Avoid adding additional liquid as it should not be necessary. Only once the full cooking time has been reached and you are ready to serve can you venture a quick stir of the contents.
The fun of potjie cooking
Potjie cooking is a great way to experiment with different types of meat. This just adds to the fun of experimenting on subsequent camping trips and sharing potjie stories around the fire. The slow cooking process is perfect for long relaxing evenings by the campfire with good company, a glass of your favourite beverage, and the distinctive bubbling of the potjie.
Increase the enjoyment and versatility of your potjie with Big Sky’s range of potjie accessories, including potjie-specific folding tripods, braai’s and lid lifters.
(Contributor: Fiona Semper)