So, what is Potjiekos?
Let’s be honest about it, who doesn’t love a good stew on cold rainy days or in a relaxed outside atmosphere? Let us put you in the educational line and tell you how we in Namibia get our culinary juices flowing. The Term “Potjiekos” also sometimes known as Poikiekos, is a traditional Afrikaner dish hailing from southern Africa. One can agree that the Potjie is the equivalent to the Moroccan Tagine if you want. It originated with the Voortrekkers in the 1800’s and is still widely prepared and enjoyed in Namibia and most of southern Africa today. Since the days of the first settlement at the Cape when food was cooked in a black cast-iron “potjie pot” which was hanging from a chain over the open kitchen fire, simmering along. The history shows that the Potjie came from the Dutch ancestors and settlers of the South African community, who took with them heavy iron cooking pots as one of their cooking utensils. If you never had a Potjie as a Guest inside Namibia, be prepared to experience one throughout your travels. Random or planned (?) there is a high guarantee that you will be offered or invited for a tasting.
In most of Namibia and southern Africa, the Word “Potjiekos” means only one thing, food prepared outdoors in a cast iron, three-legged, round pot using either wood coals or charcoal. “Ons kry nou kossies” meaning as much as “It’s feeding time” is a general outcall which can be expected at every Potjiekos gathering.
It is a very straightforward dish which comes in hundreds to thousands of variants. Most of them are easy to prepare when you know exactly what you are doing (We’ve seen a couple burned and neglected ones). Basically, most variants when done properly (!), a Potjie needs little to almost no supervision and in essance prepares itself, except for a few recipe exceptions. It makes an excellent social meal hence it allows one the time to saviour the company of your friends and family while preparing the meal. “Potjiekos“, translated from the Afrikaans Language translates as ‘Little Pot’ (Potjie) and ‘Food’ (Kos). Although it resembles a stew it is not a stew and is not prepared like a stew (depending on the recipe* – see E-Book for more details linked below).
The range of different recipes is as wide as the imagination stretches and preparing a Potjie meal is very much an individual thing. The best meat to use for “potjiekos” is what is known as stewing beef, gelatinous and sinewy cuts of beef which become deliciously tender when simmered for a long time, developing a strong meaty flavour. Other meats such as goat, chicken, venison, mutton and even fish or various kinds of seafood make ideal Potjies. Please Note that Seafood Potjies is a complete topic on their own! Dishes being prepared via a Potjie include all protein-based dishes, vegetarian meals, various Bread and even Desserts. To put emphasis on Bread prepared from a Potjie is always a highlight. You will recognise a true Potjie professional who has the ability to offer well made and un-burned fresh bread from a Potjie. We love burned ends but when it comes to open-flame made foods, Potjie Bread so with becomes a simple measure for the ranking of a Grill-Master. This individual seriously knows his cooking! Especially on a large scale preparation…
A Namibia Adventures insider Tip: Make some Popcorn with your Potjie on your next Camping weekend. It’s cheap and really simple. You will notice how your camp spot neighbours will suddenly become your new best friends. Another insider Tip, a Potjie makes for an excellent beverage cooler due to its metal properties.
So how do you prepare your Potjie?
A Potjie has structured layers. The bottom layer contains the meat (not true for seafood though*), the middle layer includes vegetables and the top layer the starch. A Potjie is a very informal way of preparing food which makes it somewhat difficult to set guideline measurements to provide amounts or specific recipes for the dishes. Download the listed E-Book below for further in-depth details. The reason for this is that it all depends on the size of the pot and the specific type of Potjie being prepared. But excellent Information and general guidelines are included in the E-Book linked at the end of this Post. With Potjies everything becomes unique hence one can add any ingredients you want, nothing is wrong. In Namibia, we would say “gaan mal” which translates to “go crazy”. If you Stick with a few basic rules you will easily succeed.
• On the 1st Rule
Potjiekos is made up of layers and their order is important. As mentioned above, always place meat at the bottom, then the vegetables and then the starch (not true for Seafood Potjies).
• On the 2nd Rule
This dish doesn’t like to be rushed! Potjiekos is cooked slowly, depending on the recipe, expect 1.5 to 4 hours on moderate heat. So do yourself a favour and start way before dinner time.
• On the 3rd Rule
The fire is a crucial part of your Potjie masterpiece. Unlike a Braai (BBQ), the choice of wood or charcoal doesn’t make much of a difference. As long as it can be regulated. Remember, this is an open flame prepared meal. Yes, Potjies prepared on Gas Stoves is also valid. Mostly on rainy days but it somehow doesn’t provide the true Potjie ambience. Try to keep it real!
• On the 4th Rule
Use enough, but not too much, liquid. You are not making a stew or a soup! Soggy Potjies is a definite no-go! With experience, you will become a Master in Potjie preparation. Potjies rich in gravy is mostly prefered when instead of Rice, Bread is available for dunking. Well observed is that many “Potjie Fanatics” out there are on a heavy debate about this one!
• On the 5th Rule
Traditional recipes require for you to not lift the lid unless you want to serve the meal or suspect something is wrong with the Potjie. Some recipes call for different actions though!
+ How to break in your brand new Potjie:
If this is your first ever Potjie with a new pot we recommend the following steps in order to remove manufacturing residue. Believe us when we say, you DON’T want your first culinary offerings to taste of metal or other industrial elements!
• Firstly, properly wash the inside thoroughly with boiling water and a scouring pad (or sandpaper) and then dry over open flames.
• Secondly, coat the inside of your utensil thoroughly with cooking oil and heat until the oil begins to smoke. Any cheap cooking oil will do!
• Thirdly, by using a paper towel, clean the inside. Repeat until the towel wipes pick up no more residue.
• Lastly, on cheap Potjies repeat if necessary! We recommend purchasing a quality Potjie, it will outlast generations or more if properly cared for so with making it a once in a lifetime investment. Also, go for the cast iron Potjies. The aluminium Potjies are not recommended for a once in a lifetime-buy. Our advice from Namibia Adventures would be to go for either (1) Cadac, (2) Bush Baby (♥ the Original and best!), (3) BestDuty or (4) Megamaster. Expect a general sales price for a Number 3 sized Potjie at around N$850.oo or higher.
So, if you followed our advice your new Potjie is now ready for use. This simple utensil will last a lifetime if properly cared for and on top of all, the more you use it the better it becomes. After each use wash, dry and coat the inside with oil. Store with the lid off in a dry place with absorbent paper crumpled up in a ball inside the pot to prevent oxidation. If you are purchasing a new Potjie generally for a group of four to six people a Size No.3 Pot is just about right. Look for the Number on the Lid of the Potjie, if it has an embossed Number 3 on it then be assured that its a Number 3 size pot. Generally available at most Hardware and Outdoor Retailers throughout Namibia.
Cool Books on Potjiekos:
This publication is a Co-Production with the South African Lifestyle Magazine “Huis Genoot” which makes this one the best and oldest all-around guide available on the Market. Although an older release date, most Potjie Fans agree that this Publication could be called “the culinary Bible”. Great methods, handling, preparing, diverse recipes and other “must-knows” are explained inside this simple guide. If you want to buy only one Book, this one would be our recommendation!
“A huge variety of traditional favourites and gourmet dishes are included, making this the one cookbook that every potjiekos enthusiast should have. Creamy curried seafood potjie, Greek fish stew, Venison hotpot, Malay sheep’s tripe, Succulent oxtail, Mediterranean half-necks of lamb, Neck of pork with baked apples, Mrs Pachoo’s curried mince, Creamy tomato meatballs, Chicken Breyani, Chicken livers in a red-wine sauce, Sugar bean curry, Pumpkin potjie, Savoury samp, Biltong pot bread, Orange pot cake … Potjie recipes to make your mouth water, whatever your culinary tastes!” (Taken from the Book Introduction)
Author: Marlene Hammann
Category: Food & Drink
Date Released: 12 December 1994
Price (incl. VAT): N$ 180.00
Format: Softcover, 128 pages
+ Braai and Potjie
A publication ideal for the outdoor cook beginner which includes recipes, tips and techniques on all things concerning cooking on an open flame, Safari style!
“South Africa’s climate is so good that outdoor cooking, ingrained into our psyche by the early indigenous people and the Voortrekkers, who learnt the art from them, is almost a national sport! Men congregate around fires, debating about whether to use wood or charcoal, each with their own way of doing things. In the early to mid-1800s the Dutch, French and German immigrants formed a new nation – the Afrikaners. And those who ventured north were known as the Voortrekkers (meaning pioneers). There was a unique cooking culture that developed with the Voortrekkers. The ox and wagon and horse were their only means of transport and provisioning was limited. So, in order to survive, they had to hunt and roast the meat on open fires, thus giving birth to the braai, a tradition that is now so established in South Africans’ culture. Some ate their meat with griddle cakes or roosterkoek while others, who had come into contact with black tribes and had been introduced to the staple food of Africa, mealie meal porridge or pap, began enjoying that with their braaivleis. As there was little space for pots and pans on the ox wagons, the settlers developed a one-pot meal called potjiekos. A three-legged cast-iron pot was used and filled with meat, vegetables and starch, like potatoes, seasoned and covered with a lid. Braai and potjie, flavours and traditions invite you on a journey into our great outdoors where we light a fire and encourage you to stay a while and enjoy this unique South African tradition.” (Taken from the Book Introduction)
Author: Sophia Lindop
Category: Food & Drink
Date Released: May 2015
Price (incl. VAT): N$ 135.00
Format: Paperback, 184 pages
+ Laat die Potte Prut (♥ Brand NEW Publication)
The Title “Laat die Potte Prut” translates as “Let the Pots simmer”. Although an Afrikaans Title, this book is available in English providing very new and modern takes on Potjie cooking. The authors of this Publication are well known due to their participation on the hit TV-Series “The Ultimate Braai Master” in South Africa. The series is frequently aired on the DSTV Travel Channel.
“The best recipes from the popular potjiekos cooking show on Via. Every recipe is delicious: from mussels in a creamy sauce, scrumptious oxtail, bredies and even a three-tiered cake, all made over the fire. From easy to ‘grand’, economical to special, this book caters for every taste.” (Taken from the Book Introduction)
Author: Piet Marais and Erik Oosthuizen
Category: Food & Drink
Date Released: 11 June 2018
Price (incl. VAT): N$ 265.00
Format: Softcover, 192 pages
Making a Potjie for a larger crowd? • Get your protein ingredients at Hartlief in Windhoek, click here for our review! • Also, support locals by using Omuriro Firestarters (also available inside our Adventure Shop). You will do the earth a favour and won’t be disappointed by this beautiful product.
Below, an ideal clip for the making of a semi-true and semi-authentic Potjie. Unfortunately, the stirring of ingredients doesn’t make it a 100% authentic Potjie. Nevertheless, a very good introduction though…