Cooking potjiekos indoors in a wok might sound like a total misnomer, but it’s as easy as cooking pot-food the traditional way, and just as delicious.
For the uninitiated, traditional South African outdoor fare, potjiekos (an Afrikaans word) is literally translated as pot (potjie) food (kos), and it is cooked open an open fire in a cast iron, round-bellied, usually three-legged pot.
While there are flat-bottomed versions of the traditional potjie, the beauty of three-legged pots is that they can be placed over and above the fire. Alternatively, they can be hung over the fire – which many South Africans like to do when preparing a traditional braai (or barbecue). The shape of the pot ensures that the heat is evenly distributed in all directions, and the juices sit in the base of the pot while the food cooks – with the aroma moving upwards.
Round-bellied pots have been used for centuries, though its origins in southern Africa aren’t certain. Some say that the Voortrekkers used them to cook potjiekos when they travelled, hanging them on their wagons.
However, evidence is that original pots were imported, possibly from Sweden, and definitely from Britain, from manufacturers like Falkirk (which still produces them) and Cannon.
Cooking Potjiekos in a Wok Instead of a Potjie
While I do have a genuine cast iron potjie, I have to confess it isn’t well used. But on Friday, when one of Magic 828AM’s presenters started waxing eloquent on his idea for cooking potjiekos and drinking red wine this weekend, I was tempted to follow suit.
Not knowing quite what to cook, I grabbed a pack of lamb (a mixture of chops, neck and knuckles), and a packet each of baby potatoes and baby onions. Everything else I figured I needed I knew I already had.
And then it started to rain – with a vengeance.
My first thought was to simply make a stew of sorts instead – in a regular pot.
Ping! Why not use my large Sola wok instead? Not my usual choice for cooking stew, it’s got a sort-of rounded bottom, and these days I cook on gas. That could work… And it certainly did, even though the wok isn’t made of cast iron, but rather from forged aluminium that is finished with a tough ceramic coating. The bonus would be that because it has a glass lid, I’d be able to see exactly what was going on during the cooking process.
So out with the recipe books, including a couple of specifically potjiekos titles written by so-called potjiekos pioneer, Matie Brink in the 1980s.
Uninspired, I remembered the baby potatoes and onions, and decided to just do my own thing.
Potjiekos in a Wok My Style
Feel free to use my recipe, or to just be inspired by the idea and create your own. Quantities are approximate:
- 2 large onions, peeled and coarsely chopped
- 2 tbsp coconut oil
- 750 g lamb (2 x neck, 4 x chops, 8 x small knuckles
- Stock (I used two x 25 g sachets of Ina Parma’s concentrated liquid veggie stock)
- 150 ml water
- 50 g tomato paste
- 1 tblsp Worcestershire Sauce
- 150 ml (or more) red wine
- 12 pickling onions, peeled
- 10 baby potatoes
- 4 large carrots, trimmed into chunks
- Fresh herbs (1 large sprig each of thyme, rosemary, basil, or whatever else you have)
- Freshly ground black pepper
Heat the oil and lightly fry the chopped onion over medium heat. Move the onion to the sides of the wok and brown the lamb in batches. As each batch browns, move it to the side.
Add the stock, water, tomato paste and Worcestershire Sauce. Stir and allow to simmer for a few minutes. Add the wine.
Throw in the veggies. You need a bit of liquid, but you don’t need to submerge the onions, potatoes and carrots to cook them.
Place the herbs on top of the meat and veg and grind black pepper over the top.
Reduce the heat to low and allow to cook for one to two hours, until everything is cooked but still relatively intact. You can adjust the temperature while you are cooking – which of course you cannot do if using a genuine potjie.
Once your potjiekos is done, serve on its own or with a salad.
Cheers – Enjoy