It was my first opportunity to attend and participate in a Potjie cook off this past weekend. The premise is this, a bunch of people get together in teams and rent a spot to cook a Potjie. Whats a Potjie? Good question as it was also mine when I was asked to prepare one.
In South Africa Potjiekos (IPA: /pɔɪ/kiː/kɔs/), directly translated “pot food”, is a stew prepared outdoors in a traditional round, cast iron, three-legged pot (the potjie) which is found in the homes and villages of people throughout southern Africa. The pot is efficiently heated using small amounts of wood, charcoal or if fuel is scarce, twisted grass or even dried animal dung.
Traditionally, the recipe includes meat, vegetables, starches like rice or potatoes, all slow-cooked with Dutch-Malay spices, the distinctive spicing of South Africa’s early culinary melting pot. Purists[who?] say liquid should never be added to the pot and the contents should never be stirred, as the lid keeps all liquids and flavors circulating throughout cooking. It is said[who?] that for a correctly cooked potjie, spices only enhance the taste. Other common ingredients include fruits and flour-based products like pasta. Even beer might be added by more adventurous cooks.
Potjiekos originated with the Voortrekkers, evolving as a stew made of venison and vegetables (if available), cooked in the potjie. As trekkers (pioneers) shot wild game, it was added to the pot. The large bones were included to thicken the stew. Each day when the wagons stopped, the pot was placed over a fire to simmer. New bones replaced old and fresh meat replaced meat eaten. Game included venison, poultry such as guinea fowl, wart hog, bushpig, rabbit and hare.
Broadly speaking, Africans, Afrikaners and English South Africans all cook potjiekos, but lounging around the fire for hours while socializing and enjoying side dishes is most culturally ingrained among the Afrikaners, for whom potjiekos spicing is an esteemed art.
Today there are numerous recipe books and potjiekos chefs, each with their own “secret” ingredients for potjiekos. Several annual potjiekos competitions are held.
The event was held just outside of Windhoek at a mining camp. Kim participated with a team of coworkers and she asked me to come along and oversee the Potjie dish. The entire team did a great job decorating and preparing our spot. Unfortunately all but two of them had any experience preparing a Potjie so Kim volunteered me to run the show. In the end we all worked together to prepare the pot. It actually tasted quite nice, but in the end did not win any awards. I tried our neighbors pot and in comparison to ours, it had a very complex taste.
The Potjie ended up cooking for a about three hours. We started with some onions which sauteed for a few minutes with some oil. We then removed the onions so that they would not go to pieces, and added them near the end. We cooked about 2 chickens worth of chicken pieces. We then added potato, some butternut squash, mushrooms, tomato, some chutney mix, and in the end about a full bottle of white wine.
Kim even prepared costumes for the team with the theme “American Indian”. The team name therefor became the Pow-Wows.
Here we see the Potjie simmering directly over the fire. It is tough to control the amount of heat that the Potjie receives. It can only be done by adjusting the amount or location of the coal. The official Potjie cooking rulebook says that you can not open or stir the pot during preparation. We broke this rules a number of times.
In the end the team won best presentation, best team spirit and best outfits.
Potjiekos Cookoff by Michael Paskevicius is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.