Sunday, September 23, 2012

Dutch Oven Potjie Kos

This Dutch oven recipe is included in my Dutch oven cookbook, "Around the World in a Dutch Oven"

In Southern Africa, there’s a cooking tradition that utilizes cast iron pots with rounded bellies and three cast legs to raise it up over the burning fire.  They’re called Potjie pots (pronounced, for some strange reason, as “POY-kee”).  The tradition has deep roots in South African history.  They first learned to cook in cast iron from the arabs to the north.  In the colonial era, the Dutch settled South Africa and brought their own brands of cast iron (the Dutch oven) with them.

The travellers that would cross the South African wilderness would carry these pots with them, cooking up the wild game they would hunt and the tubers and other vegetables they would gather along the way.

In modern day, the tradition of cooking in the pots continues, but it has evolved into an entire style, named “Potjie Kos”.  It literally translates to “potjie food” or “food from the pot”.  This really isn’t a dish so much as an approach to cooking.  It’s a big social event.  A host will plan a party, and invite friends over to socialize and celebrate while the food slowly cooks (which can take up to four or even more hours, in some cases).

The style I chose to emulate is a basic meat stew.  It’s created in three layers, and it’s not stirred until it’s completed and served. I downloaded a pdf recipe book full of variations, and I soon realized that there were some common threads.  One, you start with meats as your bottom layer.  These are usually braised for a very long time, to get them soft and tender.  Then the next layer is made of veggies that are slower cooking.  Finally, the top layer are the veggies that cook the most quickly.  After reading some recipes, I could see which veggies to use in each layer.  I also got ideas for spices.

In the end, I came up with my recipe, which was delicious.  Not stirring was an interesting twist.  It truly kept the flavors more distinct.

South African Potjie Kos

12” Deep Dutch oven

24+ coals underneath during browning
approx 10-12 coals underneath during simmering

The meat

1/2 lb bacon
2-3 lbs game meat (I got an elk roast)
1 Cup flour
1 Tbsp paprika
1 Tbsp salt
1 Tbsp pepper

The sauce

1 14 oz can beef stock
1 6 oz can tomato paste
1/8 cup balsamic vinegar

Slower-cooking veggies

1 14 oz can beef stock
2 medium sweet potatoes
1 small sweet pumpkin
4 large carrots
olive oil
chili powder

Shorter-cooking veggies

More beef stock, if necessary from the second can
4 stalks celery
1 large onion
4-5 cloves garlic
2-3 sweet peppers, of varying colors
olive oil

I began by heating up some coals and putting a lot of them under my 12” deep dutch oven.  I cut the half-pound of bacon into small squares and put them on to sizzle.  I let them cook, stirring occasionally, until they were very crisp.

While that was cooking, I cubed the roast into chunks a little under an inch across.  I mixed the flour and seasonings, and tossed the meat chunks with them in a plastic baggie.  I pulled the meat out and shook off the excess powder.

Once the bacon was all fried up, I refreshed the coals a bit, and tossed in the roast chunks.  They started sizzling immediately.  I did stir them, but only occasionally.  I let them sear as much as I could before moving the pieces around.  Soon, they had the look of being browned all around, and seared on a few sides. I let them cook, probably, a total of about 20 minutes or so.  The smell was incredible!  There was also a lot of crusty fond building up on the bottom of the Dutch oven.  That would come in handy in a bit.

I didn’t let the meat get done all the way through, but once it was mostly browned, I poured in a can of beef stock, and added in the balsamic vinegar.  The tomato paste could be added in now as well, but I did it much later, as it was an afterthought.  I stirred it all up with a wooden spoon, and scraped up as much of the fond as I could.  I put the lid on it and let it come up to a boil.

The next part was both tricky and easy.  It was easy because all I had to do was adjust the coals and keep it to a simmer for the next two hours.  It was tricky because all I had to do was adjust the coals and keep it to a simmer for the next two hours.  It wasn’t hard or difficult work, but you had to watch the burning coals, the coals underneath, and occasionally stir and check if it’s simmering, boiling, or stagnant.  For two hours.

By the way, the flour coating, in addition to helping to brown and season the meat, was also thickening the broth!

After an hour and a half, I peeled and chopped the sweet potatoes, the carrots, and cored, seeded, and cubed up the pumpkin.  Pumpkin is very common in African cuisine, I’m told.  I coated them with a light dousing of olive oil, and tossed them with the spices I mentioned.  Go easy on the chili powder.  It’s there to give it some zing, not to make it a hot dish.  Still, it’s your dish, so do it as you like!

After one final stir of the meat, I poured on a layer of the combined veggies and evened it out.  From that point on, until serving, I didn’t stir the pot.  I poured in about another quarter can of beef stock, around the edge so as to not rinse the seasonings off the veggies.

Then, I went back to napping-- I mean, managing the heat under the pot!  Yeah...  That’s it...

After a bit, I chopped up the last veggies, and minced the garlic.  I doused them with oil, too, and tossed them with their seasonings.  About 45 minutes to an hour after I had put in the first batch of veggies, I added the last layer, along with about another quarter can of additional beef broth.

After a final round of cooking, about another 45 minutes to an hour, I pronounced it done and brought it inside.  It smelled heavenly!  And after all these hours, I finally let myself stir up the food!

I served it up with some slices of the bread that I also baked today.  It was delicious and very filling!  The flavors really were more distinct.  I think not stirring the layers was a great idea.  I also wasn’t sure how I’d like the sweet potatoes and the pumpkin, but they were also delicious, and added some sweet tones to an otherwise savory dish.  The balsamic also brought some sweet along with the sour.  The meat was moist, tender, and fell apart.  It didn’t have any of the gamey bitter tones that so frequently come with elk or venison.

A delicious success!

For recipes for Dutch oven camping, or using camping Dutch ovens!

Mark has discovered a love of Dutch Oven Cooking. Mark also has other sites and blogs, including and his MoBoy blog.

No comments:

Post a Comment


Related Posts with Thumbnails