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Potjiekos

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June 17, 2014 / African / By
Nicola

By JackyR (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC-BY-SA-2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5-2.0-1.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

 

'Potjiekos' (often shortened to 'potjie') is a traditional South African meal which was introduced by the Voortrekkers several hundred years ago. It is pronounced 'pot-key-koss' and means 'small pot food', literally translated. Traditionally, it is cooked in a small cast iron pot which has three legs, over a fire. The heavy lid of a cast iron pot is perfect for building up a slight amount of pressure within, but nowadays you can still create a delicious potjie in almost any pot or slow cooker.

The great thing about the potjie is that there is a technique to cooking it, but there's no exact recipe. Follow the method, but otherwise throw in whatever you enjoy! This is a brilliant way to use up leftovers, especially vegetables.

Potjiekos is built up in layers, starting with oil at the bottom, which is heated to fry onion. Diced meat should be next, but it should only be sealed or lightly browned, rather than cooked right through. The cooking process will ensure that it cooks properly. On top of the meat, there should be a layer of vegetables - I find that root vegetables work particularly well. Lastly, it should be topped with a layer of potato. The potato should not have any gaps in it, thus sealing in the vegetables beneath. This will allow them to cook without any steam escaping.

That's the basic idea, but you can add whatever vegetables you like. Meats which were very gamey were traditonally used, but it works just as well with ordinary beef from the supermarket. The important thing is to keep the layers - a potjie should never be stirred. This is the main difference which sets it apart from a stew! Don't even be tempted to lift the lid and have a peek, or you'll end up letting the steam out. It's this steam which cooks the potjie so evenly, and means that you shouldn't have to add any extra liquid. If, for some reason, you do, the liquid should be added around the edges of the potjie instead of poured over the middle.

To make the perfect potjie, it should be cooked over a low temperature. Obviously, the traditional method of using a fire isn't really practical any more, but sturdy pots or casserole dishes can be placed into an oven on a very low temperature. I have even used a slow cooker to create potjiekos before, which is also fine, as long as it's set to a low heat.

Once the lid is on and it's cooking away, potjiekos can pretty much be forgotten about. It needs to be cooked for at least three hours - preferably more like six. The longer it cooks for, the more tender the meat will become, and the longer the flavours and juices will have to combine. It's the sort of dish that you can put on before you leave for work in the morning (taking care if you're leaving a cooking appliance on, though), or that you can prepare in advance and enjoy the company of your guests while it's cooking.

By the time it's ready, the potatoes and vegetables should be wonderfully soft and flavoursome from the steam and meat juices, and the meat should be melt-in-the-mouth tender. Cooked properly, potjiekos is one of the richest, most flavoursome dishes known to man! It's so easy to prepare, as well as hearty, warming, healthy and unbelievably tasty. Now that's my kind of food!


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Country: South Africa

Province/State: Gauteng

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Price Guide:N/A (What's this?) N/A = home cooked meal,etc
$ = street food, fast food,etc
$$ = bistro, cafe, pub, bar,etc
$$$ = fine dining,etc

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