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Kitchen man does Potjie

Lifestyle Section - Food

 

This, according to legend, is how the original, the quintessential potjie-kos recipe is said to commence, and apparently it goes back at least a hundred years.Or so my dear brother Dallas tells me, and he should know, because despite the very rooinek name, he married into an opregte Wes-kaapse familie in the 70s and became more Afrikaans than the average.

potjie_chefA visit to the McFarlane home daar agter die boerewors gordyn for a potjiekos on any given Saturday evening, transports you back in time, to sit around the fire chatting with 'n glassie rooiwyn byderhand and the moon and stars shining overhead, as the potjiie simmers gently, its delicious aromas conjuring up visions of sumptuous, tender meat with delicious vegetables, each quite distinct and delicately firm.

Deciding whether or not to tackle potjiekos was a source of some debate, and for a significant period of time, despite the urgings of many. I felt that in doing potjie, I would be crossing a line, so to speak, one that I could not conveniently step back over.

I must admit to approaching the whole potjie thing with considerable trepidation, because it is an area which is hotly contested, and if anecdotal evidence is to be believed, quite difficult to master.

Maar nou ja as they say in the classics, all it took was an unanticipated encounter with two rather old books by Matie Brink, This is potjiekos (1984) and Entertaining with potjiekos (1986) both published by Human & Rousseau, to re-ignite my interest.

After reading both rather slim volumes, I came to the conclusion that either Matie Brink was trying to keep the secrets of the perfect potjiekos just that, secret, or he was experimenting with enigmatic writing prior to producing his first novel, because I came away none the wiser about the actual business of cooking the potjie. But as Joe Parker, that doyen of crass South African humour has been known to opine, "Nothing ventured ... nothing ventured".

What to do first time out was easy, because I still had in the deepfreeze the bulk of a springbok shot for me last year - I'm too much of a coward to do it myself - by dear friend and fellow thespian Halima Beale.

Watching Halima as the crazy knife-wielding Evelyn Draper in a recent production of "Play Misty for Me" at The Playhouse Theatre in Somerset West, made me feel quite sorry for the poor springbok, but there you are. At least I was secure in the knowledge that it had been well butchered.

What follows, is my take on potjiekos, and it wasn't nearly as difficult as many would have you believe.

Ingredient selection and preparation

  • 1.5 kg springbok loin: I used loin with the bone in because it was conveniently the right quantity, but you can use any cut you like. Separate the loin into chunks by cutting carefully between the vertebrae.
  • If you use a cleaver, remember to remove any shards of bone that result or you may end up having to do the Heimlich manoeuvre on one of your dinner guests!
  • 300ml dry red wine: best you can afford as usual. I used a 2004 Hartenberg Shiraz, a bottle of which I just happened to have lurking in my guest loo cum wine cellar. Naturally, we polished off the rest with the meal.
  • 200ml light soya sauce: odd, I know, but this is one of the tips I took from Matie Brink's book, in which he suggest that using soya sauce is preferable to using salt as a seasoning, and I must admit, I agree with him. It adds a flavour dimension that was unanticipated but welcome.
  • 2 large onions: peeled and sliced into thick rings.
  • 500g potatoes: peeled, sliced about ½cm thick.
  • 350g Brussels sprouts
  • 1 bouquet garni: a sprig each of parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme, tied firmly with a piece of cooking string.
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 150ml chutney
  • ½tsp mustard powder
  • 1tsp apricot jam: I am given to understand that other than imparting flavour, apricot jam also helps to lower the glycaemic index of any dish.
  • 2tsp, heaped with cornflour

Method

First of all, make your fire. I used charcoal briquettes, despite the overwhelming evidence that wood coals are best suited to making potjie.
I found the briquettes uniform shape and size gave me consistent heat throughout the cooking process, some four hours in total.

You need a stack of coals on one side of the braai with your pot on the other. You add fresh briquettes to your feeder fire, as and when you replenish the fire under your pot. I used about 2.5kg of briquettes.

Place the bouquet garni and bay leaves in a No20 pot, followed by the meat and pour over the red wine and soya sauce. The meat must be just covered, so you may need to add a bit more red wine, or water if you prefer.

Start with about four or five briquettes to get things going, so to speak, and as soon as the pot is up to the boil, remove heat until the pot is just simmering nicely.

Keep the fire stoked just enough for it to simmer for two and a half hours, keeping the pot covered. If you place your ear near the pot, you will be able to hear how rapidly it is simmering, and adjust your fire accordingly. If you're not sure that it is simmering just right take a quick peek, but the idea is to remove the lid as infrequently as possible.

The concept of potjie cooking is quite simple. The shape and design of the three legged cast iron potjiepot, thicker at the base than at the top, is such that it heats evenly from top to bottom. Despite the coals being directly under the pot, it is surprisingly hot just below the rim, which ensures even cooking without stirring once you layer in the vegetables.
Add the onions, potatoes and Brussels sprouts in layers, cover the pot and simmer for a half hour.

Mix the chutney, mustard powder and apricot jam with a ½cup of water, and pour evenly over the veggies. Simmer for a further half hour.
Stir the cornflour into a ½cup of water, and pour into the pot. Cover the pot and simmer until the veggies are tender and cooked, probably about another half hour or so. Resist the temptation to stir the pot. It is completely unnecessary to do so.

The meat will be melt in the mouth tender, and the veggies will be done through, completely distinct, and with a delightful "bite" to them almost like al dente spaghetti.
Serve with a steaming pile of basmati rice and a fresh green salad. Enjoy!

Preparation time: 30 minutes Cooking time: 4 hours
Yield: 6-8

Written by Norman McFarlane You are reading Kitchen man does Potjie articles

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