A PEACHY POULTRY POTJIE AFFAIR
This Heritage Day, I’ve decided to celebrate by making our symbolic, humble potjie rather than resort to the inevitable braai.
As you will have no doubt realised, every chef who turns his hand to a potjie has his own secrets – and, like every potjie guru who is stoking the fire to celebrate the multitude of cultures that make up our rainbow nations this year, I will be adding my own personal touch in the form of traditional Indian Ocean style cooking.
But, first of all, I’ll be lighting the fire ubuntu style and settling down to conjure up a flavoursome synergy of the finest ingredients whilst enjoying good company – and undoubtedly some good yarns – with some special friends.
RAISING OUR GLASSES TO POTJIE HISTORY
I decided to ask Doctor Google and some family elders all about the origin of what is often called ‘the humble potjie’.
It actually translates to something as simple as pot food and traditionally includes a host of layered ingredients including meat and vegetables.
It seems that most culinary historians believe that the potjie dates back to the 1500s and evolved from the Dutch hutspot which fed many a hungry soldier during the Siege of Leiden in 1574. It is said that the original hutspot recipe came from the cooked bits of vegetables left behind in pots by Spanish soldiers during the siege. The hungry Leideners not only dipped into the left overs but also took the dish back home where it has been updated through the centuries.
When the Dutch settlers arrived in the Cape 1652, they brought their tradition of cooking in cast-iron pots with them. These were ideal for the time as they held their heat and proved to be a perfect means of storying food. These potbellied vessels were also apparently popular with the Voortrekkers during the 17th and 18th centuries as they could be topped up with meat from the latest hunt and simply moved from fire to fire en route.
Of course, in our multifaceted nation with its extremely diverse past, there is also evidence that the humble potjie was also popular with indigenous, largely nomadic people and had been passed down via migrants who had shared a pot with Arab traders en route to the tip of Africa.
There are even claims that Portuguese colonists did their cooking in cast iron pots.
Hopefully all are true and that, through the ages, the various culinary traditions have all combined to create colourful concoctions that reflect an array of influences no matter what the former geographic origin.
A FIREY FEAST FOR HERITAGE DAY
Today’s influence is undoubtedly Malaysian – I suppose a celebration of some of our Cape heritage. It is infused with peaches and our African favourite, chicken. It is, at its roots, a mild curry with a colourful visual allurement together with that special sweetness of cinnamon and coconut milk.
The word curry traditionally means stew with a base made from gently sautéed onions as well as garlic, peanut oil, and herbs.
The potjie is the ideal curry pot as it facilitates a slow cooking process that creates the perfect balance and blending of flavours. By the way, as the pot bubbles secretly within, there’s no peeking. When this dish finally reveals itself, it is all about surprise and delight. Call it pot luck … or not.
To ignite the spirit of heritage day, you need to construct your fire, using hardwood briquettes, or if you feel like going old school, start with some kindling and build a fire using long burning hard wood.
The fire has to be constant and keep its heat for the duration of your cooking. Constantly monitor the temperature. Your potjie must just bubble.
The perfect potjie is all about the balance between constant heat, the layers, and the timing – and, of course, plenty of love from the cook.
Place your potjie on the fire and, when it is heated up. You can add your ghee or butter and then your sliced onions, celery and spice mix. As soon as the onions have sweated, you can add your chicken that has been lightly coated in self raising flour. This is to sear the skin. Just lightly brown the chicken.
When your chicken is slightly braised, you can add 1/2 litres of ginger ale and one can of peeled tomatoes. On the back burner, you can start boiling your dried peaches lightly for five minutes or so. Then, take out the water and place them alongside your chicken broth.
After an hour, you can add your sweet potato medallions. Now, leave your potjie for at least an hour and sit back and enjoy a good glass of chilled wine.
Keep the lid on while listening to it slowly simmering – but remember, only the chef can peek.
After an hour, check the temperature and the viscosity. Then add your mange tout. Allow them to steam but make sure that they remain crunchy and tender. When you are happy, you can remove the lid and let the rest of the excess liquid broil away.
The final touch is to add some good seasoning as well as the coconut milk, slowly stirring this through. To garnish, add some fresh dhanya.
For the side, we made up a quick sambal with chopped tomato, onion, spring onion, chopped chilly and some dhanja, all mixed with some peach Mrs Balls blatjang/ chutney.
You can serve your masterpiece with some basmati rice and pani puri – in this case round crispy poppadums.
Then dish up and enjoy your festive day, savouring all those delicious flavours and celebrating Heritage Day in style… island style
WINE PAIRING ISLAND STYLE
I would recommend a nice light fresh sauvignon blanc – one I found, is from the Spice Route Wine Company in Cape Town and offers stunning notes of cinnamon and nutmeg.
Serves 4 to 6 – cooking time 1 1/2 to 2 hours
15 ml butter
15 ml cooking oil
1,2 kg fresh free range chicken pieces
2 cloves of garlic
small root ginger chopped
24 medium celery sticks
20 ml self-raising flour
dash of lime juice
2 onions – one red one white, sliced
2ml of grated nutmeg
5 ml turmeric
1 cinnamon stick
few bay leaves
20 ml of cape Malay curry powder
salt and pepper
250 ml coconut milk
1 can of fresh peeled tomatoes
1/5 lt. ginger ale
1 large pealed sweet potato
1 cup basmati rice prepared
pocket of pani puri