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Potjiekos – A South African Tradition

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What is potjiekos?

Potjiekos (pronounced poy-key-kos) is an Afrikaans word that means small pot of food. It is a traditional South African stew that is cooked over a fire in a three-legged cast-iron pot. In South Africa, potjiekos is more than a meal—it’s a social event. It’s the kind of thing people do when friends come over.

 Potjiekos takes place outside on an open fire. It cooks for a long time, (3+ hours), but a potjie requires very little attention. This allows the host to socialize while the potjie happily simmers away.

What are the best potjiekos ingredients

Potjiekos ingredients vary greatly. There are no specific ingredients for any potjie, but essentially, a potjie has meat, potatoes, vegetables and seasonings. But traditions are adapted, so now there are even recipes for vegetable-only potjiekos.

Meats are typically lamb, mutton, venison, beef. Dark meat chicken can also be included. For vegetables, onions and potatoes are usually the base, and other vegetables that are typically included are carrots, beans, cauliflower, corn on the cob, or pumpkin. To ensure that nothing becomes too mushy, each ingredient is added at specific times during the process.

Waterblommetjiebredie is also commonly made in a potjie. It’s a traditional South African dish made with lamb and waterblommetjies, which are water lilies. Water lilies are harvested when they are still in the bud stage and used as a vegetable. They bloom during the South African winter months— June to September. It makes for a hearty winter stew.

How to cook a great potjie?

How to make potjiekos

The cooking time varies depending on the recipe, but usually, the meat is cooked or browned first in a little oil before the rest of the ingredients are added. To avoid a mushy potjie, ingredients are added according to their cooking time. Sometimes liquid is added like beef stock, red wine, etc. After putting everything in the pot, the lid is put on, placed over the coals, and left to simmer for up to six hours. Slow cooking results in tender meat. Potjie enthusiasts say a potjie should not be stirred until ready to serve.

Some stirring may occur during the cooking time, depending on the chef, but the potjiekos is generally left to cook on its own, with the lid on.

Making a good potjie requires patience. It takes time for the wood to burn and turn into coals, then even more time for the potjie to cook slowly. But this is exactly why South Africans have a potjie—it gives friends more time to gather! Cooking a potjie is not hard, but it may take you a time or two to get the hang of it because cooking outside over hot coals differs from cooking inside. 

Potjiekos is typically served with a starch like rice, bread, or mielie pap, (a traditional South African stiff corn porridge.)


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About The Author

Hi! We’re the Cheltens’. We visit South Africa 1-2 times per year. We want to share our experiences with you so that you may make educated decisions when you plan your next trip to the rainbow nation.

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