A 3 legged potjie filled with a colorful lamb curry meal.

How To Make A Potjie – Step By Step With Pictures

I grew up eating potjiekos. My dad would make potjie on the weekends, there’s nothing quite like the smell of potjiekos cooking on coals – it’s enough to make your mouth water! The family would all gather to eat the steaming plates of goodness then we would play parlor games and laugh till our tummies hurt.

A potjie (pott-ji) is a very versatile, one-pot cooking vessel that can be used to cook everything from stews and soups to roasts. Because of its thick cast-iron walls, a potjie retains heat extremely well, which means your food will stay warm for a long time after it’s been cooked.

In this article, I’m going to show you how to make a traditional South African potjie. So let’s get started!

How to make a potjie:

Step by step lamb recipe (serves 4-5)

Ingredients

  • 4-6 x lamb chops
  • 1 x large onion, diced
  • 2 x carrots, peeled and diced
  • 2 x potatoes, peeled and diced
  • 1 x red pepper, diced
  • 1 x green pepper, diced
  • 3-4 cups x frozen country mix
  • 1/2 cup x red wine (optional)
  • 3 x cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tsp x dried thyme/mixed herbs
  • 2 tbsp. x mixed spices
  • 1tsp x cumin
  • 1sp x smoked paprika
  • 1tsp x curry powder
  • 1tsp x garum masala
  •  3 tbsp. x olive oil
  • 2 cup x beef or chicken broth
  • Sea salt and black pepper to taste
  • Fresh parsley for garnish
  • To thicken- 2 tablespoons cornstarch mixed with 4 tablespoons cold water

Instructions

  1. Season your potjie (read further for instructions on seasoning below) and start your fire to prepare your coals.
A potjie placed over a heap of coals and being seasoned with oil before cooking.
  1. Chop your vegetables, get your spices as well as herbs together and if you are making your broth, do it now then allow your broth to steep.
Chopped green and red peppers, with a large chopped onion in a green bowl.
  1. Heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onions, peppers, wine, garlic and thyme/ mixed herbs. Cook until tender, about 15 minutes.
Green and red chopped peppers, and a large chopped onion added to a potjie with heated olive oil.
  1. Add your mixed spice x cumin x smoked paprika x curry powder x garum masala
A mixture of spices added to a potjie, while it is being heated over a heap of coals.
  1. Add the lamb chops and the broth to the pot, mix until lamb is well coated with spice.
A good portion of mutton added to a heated potjie, while heated over a heap of coals.
  1. Bring to a simmer and cook until the lamb chops are partially cooked through, about 20 minutes.
Cooking mutton till it is tender in a heated 3 legged potjie.
  1. Add the frozen veggies, carrots and potatoes to your potjie. Flavor with salt & pepper and slow cook for 1.5 – 2 hours.  Dissolve the cornstarch in water and add to the pot about the last 5 minutes to thicken sauce.
Frozen vegetables added to a potjie, a mixture of broccoli, potatoes and carrots.
  1. Serve hot with fresh parsley garnish.
And this is how to make a potjie. A hot meal served, from a potjie.

How do you prepare a potjie for the first time?

To season a potjie, you will need:

  • A potjie (ha-ha)
  • Hot coals or an open fire
  • Vegetable oil
  • Salt

Instructions

  1. Start by heating the potjie over hot coals or an open fire.
A black 3 legged potjie placed over a heap of coals in preparation of its seasoning.
  1. Once the potjie is hot, add 1-2 tablespoons of vegetable oil and swirl it around to coat the inside of the pot.
Adding oil to a black 3 legged potjie as part of the seasoning process.
  1. Add a tablespoon of salt and rub it around with a cloth to coat the inside of the pot. Discard any excess oil and salt.
Wiping oil around a heated potjie, as part of its seasoning procedure.
  1. Place the potjie back on the heat and wait for it to become hot again. Once heated, your potjie is ready for use.
A well seasoned black potjie, placed next to a fire and ready to prepare a cooked meal.

What makes a potjie a potjie?

A potjie is a type of Dutch oven that is popular in South Africa [1]. It is typically made from cast iron and has three legs, which allows it to be placed over an open fire. Potjies are available in a variety of sizes, but the most common size is the three-legged potjie, which can hold between two and four liters of liquid.

There are a few things that make a potjie a potjie:

1. It is cooked over an open fire or coals

This allows the pot to get very hot, which helps to sear the meat and vegetables and give them a lot of flavor.

2. The pot is usually covered while it is cooking

This traps the heat inside, making the stew cook more evenly.

3. A potjie is usually cooked slowly

This allows the flavors to mingle and develop fully. 

4. It is made from cast iron

Cast iron made cookware is durable heavy-use kitchenware and this provides excellent heat retention.

Should a potjie boil?

A potjie should not boil. If you put a lid on a potjie and allow it to boil, the liquid will start to condense on the lid and then drip back down into the food, making it watery. The idea behind a potjie is that it is a slow-cooked stew, so the liquid should just be simmering, not boiling.

If you find that your potjie is boiling, take the lid off and turn down the heat. Boiling will also make the vegetables mushy, so if you want them to retain their shape and texture, make sure the potjie can simmer, not boil.

How do you thicken a potjie?

A potjie is a thick, hearty stew that is a traditional South African food recipe cooked in a cast iron pot. To thicken a potjie, you can add flour or cornstarch to the stew while it is cooking (read recipe above for instruction). This will help to absorb some of the liquid and make the stew thicker.

Additionally, you can add cooked rice, pearl couscous, or quinoa to the potjie. These grains will also help to absorb some of the liquid and make the stew thicker. Finally, if you want a really thick potjie, you can remove some of the liquid before serving. This will concentrate the flavors and make the stew even more satisfying.

Just be sure to add extra broth or water when reheating, as the potjie will become very dry if all of the liquid is removed.

How many coals do I need for a potjie?

Braai forms part of South African comfort foods and for us potjie is sometimes a part of the braai shenanigans. When that fire is going for that braai then it is easy to place a potjie over coals. But how many coals do you need to cook a potjie? The answer depends on the size of the pot and the amount of food being cooked.

For a small potjie (3-4 liters), you will need about 15-20 coals, placed under the pot and around the edges. For a larger pot (6-8 liters), you will need 20-30 coals. And for a very large pot (10 liters or more), you will need 30-40 coals. Remember, it’s better to have too many coals than too few, as you can always remove coals if necessary.

The key is to cook the potjie slowly and evenly, so that all the ingredients have a chance to meld together into a delicious stew.

A heap of hot coals ready to be used for a potjie.

How to clean a cast iron potjie

If you’re like me, your cast iron potjie is one of your most prized possessions and it is important to give it a little TLC from time to time to prevent my cast iron smoking.

Here’s how I clean mine:

  1. I remove any food debris with a stiff brush.
  2. Rinse the potjie with hot water to remove any lingering grease or residue.
  3. Fill the potjie with water and add a few tablespoons of baking soda.
  4. I let the mixture sit for 15-20 minutes, then scrub the potjie with a stiff brush to remove any stubborn dirt.
  5. Finally, I rinse the potjie with hot water, dry it and add a layer of oil, before I stuff it with news paper then store it away.

Wrapping up: How to make a potjie

And that, my friends, is how you make a potjie. Well, that and a lot of patience, practice, and maybe a little bit of voodoo. But seriously, if you give this rustic South African dish a try I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised – it’s hearty, tasty, and definitely something different.

Let us know in the comments below how your potjie turns out!

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Charlene Gallant

Charlene is a lover of good food. She enjoys nothing more than cooking up a storm in the kitchen and sharing her favourite recipes with her readers. She also enjoys reading a good book.

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