How to Make the Perfect Outdoor Sishebo: Potjie

28 October 2015

‘Potjiekos’ has long since been a traditional South African stew, brought to our shores by the Dutch settlers and perfected by the Cape Malay (what could be better than big, hot stew during a cold Cape winter?) Nowadays, just about everyone in South Africa has tasted the soft potatoes, succulent vegetables and hearty, delicious flavour of a good, old ‘Potjie.’ A Potjie is cooked in a large, cast-iron pot, most commonly over the open coals of an outdoor fire – not too different from cooking Sishebo recipes in large pots over crackling fires.

Now that summer has made herself comfortable, and outdoor entertaining is more popular, there is no better alternative to a braai than making Potjiekos. It’s also great for feeding the masses. Don’t be overwhelmed, it’s much easier than it looks! It is just like making your tried-and-trusted Sishebo, with a few little differences.

First, you’ll need a cast-iron Potjie pot. In order to ensure that there is no iron residue in your stew, be sure to wash the inside of the pot with soap and water before first use. Then, coat the inside thoroughly with oil or vegetable fat, throw in some vegetable scraps, fill halfway with water and allow to bubble and boil away directly on the coals of a hot fire. Once done, empty out, rinse and wash with soapy water again, and then coat the inside of your pot with vegetable fat or oil to prevent rusting in storage.

You don’t need to clean your Potjie like this each time you use it – all that it needs is a good soapy wash and rinse.

Now, here’s how you can make the perfect ‘outdoor Sishebo’:

  1. Create two fires, one that you start about 15 minutes after the first one. This is so that you have fresh, hot coals to put into your Potjie fire if it needs hotter coals while cooking.
  2. Gather all of your traditional Sishebo ingredients together. You can add any vegetables that you would like – potatoes, meat chunks of your choice, your trusty beef stock cubes (two should do, depending on the size of your pot), and some herbs and spices to taste.
  3. Place the pot on the coals and heat some oil inside it until sizzling. Fry some onions until browned, then sear the meat to seal in the flavour. Set the meat and onion mix aside.
  4. The placement of the ingredients is very important for the cooking process. The items that take the longest to cook should go on the very bottom. Start by placing the vegetables on the bottom of your pot, then the meat, and then a layer of potatoes to seal the contents and help them cook.
  5. Mix your beef stock cubes in hot water as directed, and then add to the pot.
  6. Once you have added the stock and soup water, fill the pot with water to just cover the top of the layers.
  7. Sprinkle in some herbs and spices to taste.
  8. Put on the lid, place your pot on the fire, grab something to drink and enjoy some time to socialise. Yup, that’s all you have to do – the food will now cook itself!

Now for the most important part of your Potjiekos! DO NOT STIR under any circumstances. Stirring will disorganise the order of the pot’s contents and will upset the cooking process.

Try not to lift the lid too frequently. Listen to the pot for a good simmering sound. If the Potjie is bubbling too ferociously, remove some of the coals. If not enough, add some hot coals from your second fire.

Check your Potjie’s contents for tenderness after about two hours. Once ready, serve with rice, pap or dumplings and enjoy your delicious traditional South African ‘outdoor Sishebo.’

For more tasty recipes, cooking tips and everything Sishebo, stay tuned to our blog.

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