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All hail the South African Oxtail Potjie! What could be better than sitting under the huge African sky,  the potjie pot bubbling on the open fire, surrounded by family and friends? Can you smell the smokey fire intertwined with the tantalising flavours of the Oxtail Potjie? Nothing compares to good food coupled with friends and family except the fantastic South African weather. South Africans are known for their love of socialising outdoors, so this type of cooking is perfect for a sunny weekend afternoon.  

‘Potjiekos’ is an Afrikaans word that simply means ‘small pot food’. ‘Potjiekos’ has roots as far back as the war between the Netherlands and Spain (1566-1648). During Leyden’s siege, food was scarce, so the townspeople had to eat ‘Hutspot’ Hodgepodge to survive. Each household brought what food they had to add to a communal cooking pot and cooked it all together. Was this the first official potjie party ever held? That’s debatable!

Traditionally, potjie recipes are passed down from generation to generation. Each generation adds their own special twist or secret ingredient from ‘Ouma’ that is essential in creating that ‘one in a million’ Oxtail potjie recipe. Many cultures claim that the origins of the potjie started with them.  However, the Dutch settlers who arrived in the Cape in 1652 have an official claim to this particular cuisine. Their food was cooked in cast-iron pots, now known as the ‘potjie pot’, on open fires. This type of cooking utensil retains its heat and results in delicious tender roasts and stews. They also baked bread in these pots as they act as the perfect outdoor oven!

What exactly goes into a South African oxtail recipe?

There are so many South African recipes to choose from that the variations are endless. A potjie is traditionally cooked outside on an open fire and can be made with various types of meat such as beef, chicken, lamb, or seafood. The most common potjies’ are made with beef or lamb and are filled with seasonal vegetables, stock, and a cheeky glass of wine or two.

You are probably thinking this sounds like a glorified stew; however, the notable difference between a stew and a potjie is how the food is layered, with the meat being the first layer on the bottom of the pot and the vegetables placed in layers on the top of it, followed by the spices and stock. This is then cooked for hours on an open fire until the meat is extremely tender.

Feeling hungry anyone? Let’s get cracking with cooking a truly South African Oxtail recipe! 

What you need

Aside from the below list of ingredients and the actual potjie pot, you will need to build a fire with wood and briquettes, ensuring you have enough hot coals to start the potjie cooking. However, you can cook this dish on the stove or cooker using a heavy-bottomed pot.   

  • 500g beef oxtail                           
  • ½ cup flour (seasoned with salt and pepper)
  • 2 large onions chopped coarsely
  • 4 large carrots chopped into chunks
  • 2 large potatoes chopped into chunks
  • 2 large leeks (alternative 250g green beans/peas) 
  • 250g button mushrooms (washed) 
  • 1-litre beef stock (alternative vegetable stock)
  • 115g tomato paste 
  • 250ml red wine (any type will be fine)
  • 2 tablespoons crushed garlic     
  • 2 tablespoons sunflower oil
  • 2 tablespoons butter

What to do

  • Dry off the excess moisture on the oxtail with a paper towel. 
  • Place the meat into the seasoned flour and coat thoroughly
  • Heat the oil and butter in the potjie pot, or if using the cooker, heat in a heavy-bottomed pot.
  • Brown the seasoned oxtail in the oil and butter until browned all over.
  • Remember this step is to sear the meat so it doesn’t fall to pieces while simmering; it does not need to be thoroughly cooked.
  • Remove the meat and leave it to drain on a paper towel.
  • Saute the onions, carrots, and leeks until tender.
  • Add the oxtail and potatoes to the sauteed vegetables.
  • Add the garlic, red wine, stock, and tomato paste and bring to a boil.
  • Place the lid on the potjie pot, turn down the heat and leave to simmer for about four hours.
  • Lastly, add the mushrooms about an hour before serving.
  • Serve with sadza, traditional pot bread, or on a bed of rice.

If you prefer your potjie to be a bit thicker, remove the lid towards the end of the cooking time and allow the sauce to naturally reduce while simmering slowly. Another alternative would be to use cornstarch, mix equal parts of cornstarch and cold water to a smooth paste and add to the potjie towards the end of the cooking time.

Remember, a potjie is never stirred. Once the layers have been built and the lid put on, the only time you would disturb the layers would be when serving up. 

Now that the hard work is done, sit back and enjoy your potjie with a glass of red wine or beer. The choice is entirely yours!

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