JP’S FOOD LOVE STORY IN NAMIBIA
Chef JP shares his memories from his trip to Namibia in 2010 – and uses them to inspire a mega cook up.
The wonderful thing about food is that, with it, you can share your memories and experiences and even your philosophies with those that matter. Over a good meal, friends and family, pitch in, share the laughter and ask questions.
Recently, over a classic bush style bonfire, I decanted some Jägermeister and the memories from a trip that I made in 2010
as part of a team that was filming a documentary for musician, Bok van Blerk, who had just released his hit single Delarey, began to flow.
Even today, the words “Delarey, kan jy die Boere kom ly” still leaves a warm fuzzy feeling in my heart. Being privy to a six-week adventure which included a road
trip with the band across the plains of the Namib, is an opportunity that only comes around once in a lifetime.
My first funny, but painful, story began the night before departure to Windhoek. Believe it or not, with an abscess in my molar, I bit my tongue all the way during the longest six-hour journey of my life, all the way to a place called Rundu on the Angola border
The pain was so bad that I was looking for a wooden stick for a DIY removal of the offending tooth when, in my now blurred vision, I made out the word “tandaards” on the front of a building. I was thinking “bush extraction and a trip to hell” but, to my surprise, with open arms, a couple from Stellenbosch University who were doing a locum there, came to my rescue.
That was, thank heavens, the start of a mindful and painless journey to conquer the desert and absorb the culinary history of a country that dates back to the old German Sud West.
This really was an expedition into the unknown. Take it from me, traveling in Namibia is much like an 11-hour Transatlantic flight spent peering out of the window looking for your destination. Somewhere at the end of the endless roads, there’s always an oasis that is well worth the anticipation.
After the first concert in Rundu, on the Okavango River, we headed towards Otjiwarongo where I had my first taste of Namibian cuisine. As the photo shows, we watched an eland and then a camel drinking water in a trough next to the bar and restaurant. It was here that I had my first camel steak. Say no more, those goofy characters are better off left alive!
Not long afterwards and, having recovered from my tussle with that camel steak, I was sitting enjoying a cold beer in a quaint little street bistro along the main road in Oranjemund when I heard a rumble in the background. To my absolute surprise, an oryx (gemsbok for locals) came galloping down the street.
A tad gobsmacked, I quickly realised that I was eating the other iconic antelope from that region – the Springbok. The special of the day was springbok carpaccio.
Here’s my take on this local delicacy:
SPRINGBOK CARPACCIO WITH ROCKET AND CRANBERRY PRESERVE
Trim your fillet, about 220g net weight, and sear it. I dry sear mine over a hot skillet for 10 seconds a side. Then, I let it rest and cool down and wrap it in cling wrap before placing it in the freezer for 2 hours. This makes it easier to slice into wafer thin medallions later.
Remove your fillet from the cling wrap and, using a very sharp knife, slice into slivers, keeping each one as thin as possible. Place the slivers on a plate and squeeze some fresh lemon all over. The acid will cook the meat some more. Decorate your plate with some fresh rocket, spread the carpaccio evenly, drizzle some balsamic
vinegar and some extra virgin oil, lots of course salt and peppercorn. Finally, add some more lemon and some cranberry preserve to balance the flavours – and, there you have it, traditional springbok carpaccio!
Plus, here’s another (more recently invented) venison starter to get those taste buds going.
A DATE WITH A KUDU
Although this isn’t your average venison that you can buy at your corner butcher, I eventually found a kudu fillet and came up with a special starter.
Marinate your kudu loin for 24 hours in some lemon juice, 100ml olive oil, 35 ml of dark soy sauce, crushed garlic, fresh cloves, cloves and a handful of sweet basil.
Once morning as broken and you can feel the small animals seeking shelter from the scorching heat, you can start making that bushfire, open a cold Tafel lager (yes, it is 11 am) and begin another glorious day.
Start steaming your dates on the side and then begin making your sauce – oh, an open another beer.
On medium heat, add some butter, 50 ml red wine vinegar, an equal amount of balsamic vinegar, 1 teaspoon each of honey and brown sugar and a few whole cloves for aromatics.
Stir vigorously, then reduce to a thick sauce.
Cut your marinated kudu loin into cubes and assemble your skewer, alternating the meat and the dates. Pour your sauce over your skewer … and you’ll have proof that you can make a little taste of heaven in a sauce pan in the middle of nowhere
I quickly learnt that this land is not for sissies or vegans. What I also learnt was that what we now refer to as venison – and, as an animal lover and conservationist, I only use sustainably and humanely farmed meat – is of the tastiest meat out there. So, if you’re a carnivore, then game meat, which has very little fat, is by far the healthiest option.
All that said, after two weeks, you will be yearning for your veggies and truly dreaming of that lonely celery stick. That’s why it comes as no surprise that the nomadic koi san, were foragers and regularly looked for roots and fruits, harvesting as they went on their way.
Which brings me to the first main course that I was inspired to prepare as part of my Namibian culinary expedition.
OSTRICH FILLET WITH ASPARAGUS, GOOSEBERRIES AND A RED WINE REDUCTION
One of my favourites is an ostrich fillet. This time, it comes with asparagus spears, wrapped in Parma ham, with a red wine and gooseberry reduction. In the spirit of tradition, I have prepared a dish that resembles and recreates my Namibian experience.
I chose a lean ostrich fillet – kinda having a tad of fun as, with the heat in the Namib, you sometimes want to hide your head in the sand. The asparagus is symbolic of the spears that have been historically used for hunting, Parma ham speaks to the salty winds from the skeleton coast and the gooseberries represent the fruit from the harvesting.
I thought it would be quite a symbiotic plating arrangement with the meat and the asparagus spears directed to the catch of the day.
FROM YOUR BUSHVELD PANTRY:
300 grams of lean, ostrich fillet
4 fresh asparagus spears
100 grams of prosciutto or Parma ham
a handful of fresh gooseberries
Rub your fillet in olive oil and garlic and season with salt and pepper and fresh thyme.
Rinse your asparagus spears in salt water and strain off the excess grime. Blanch your asparagus by placing the spears in a small pot of boiling water. As soon as they change colour and are tender, whip them out and dunk them in cold water to stop them cooking.
Next, get out your sneaky cabernet, pour some in a sauce pan with a dollop of butter and a premade 100 ml of beef stock. (Fill a glass of vino for yourself …)
Add some chives, salt and pepper and boil for 10 minutes until the sauce in reduced.
In another frying pan, heat a dollop of butter, a dash of oil and sear your meat over a hot pan until both sides are evenly charred (3 minutes each side). Set aside to rest.
Using the jus from the saucepan, create a gooseberry reduction. Add your gooseberries and reserve to pour over your meat later.
Glaze your asparagus with a bit of butter and lemon juice and assemble your spears by rolling them up in the Parma ham.
All your components are now ready to plate. I used vermicelli rice noodles as a starch component which I quickly deep fried, until golden brown. This also creates the imagery of golden grass where you will rest your sliced ostrich medallions.
Place the spears facing the meat, pour your reduction (including the gooseberries) over the plate, garnish with fresh chives.
Whilst I was in Windhoek, at Joe’s Beerhouse, I experienced a true mouthful of soul food that, like Namibia, is gloriously different.
This is where that strong German influence comes in. The traditional Eisbein hails from Germany and probably accompanied many settlers to what became known as Sud West. Even in Europe, there is a geo political conundrum between north and south… even when it comes to food. So, I buckled up, sharpened my knives, and chose south. I admit that, traditionally the Eisbein hails from Hamburg in the north, but because my aunt lives in Bavaria and I haven’t been north, I decided to cook us a southern style pork knuckle aka # schweinshaxe#, referencing the crispy crackling.
EISBEIN NAMIBIA STYLE
For the love of pork, you need to spend a little time with your pork shank or knuckle.
I brine my pork (1,2 kg of meat) overnight in buttermilk, vinegar, salt and cloves until … wakey wakey little piggy, it is time to go into the pot. I cook it in the brine in a pressure cooker for about an hour.
Let the shank rest for a while, delicately score the fat with cross sections. Give it a good salt rub and grill at a preheated oven for 20 minutes. The skin should now be nearly crispy. My trick – taught to me by my good friend Edgar Tomel, a master at his work, late now – is to drop the nearly crispy shank in a deep fryer for 2 minutes. This will unify the crackling and give you pure German perfection.
Once pork, has rested for a while and the oil is drained, you can serve up with some potato mash, traditional sauer kraut and good old fashioned German mustard.
If you ever think the Grand Canyon is an experience to remember, then finding yourself in the heart of the Fish River Canyon is definitely be a sight that you will never forget. It is truly breath taking.
Chatting about staying at a hot water spring in Ais Ais, brought back memories of a long forgotten Oma das broden – or Ouma se Brood…
This is my take on being out in nature and making bread on the fire.
OUMA SE POTBROOD
FROM THE BUSHVELD PANTRY
2 cups of self-raising flour
1 teaspoon of active dry yeast
1 cup warm water
1 teaspoon of salt
olive oil, to brush the inside of your tin cup
As per the picture, pour your mix in to a coated tin cup and heat for 30 minutes over a medium open fire. This is a real bush baby bread just like Ouma would’ve done.
As you will probably know, the Namibian environment may be beautiful but it also comes with its own challenges, not least of which is a shortage of water. As the annual rainfall is equal to that of the Sahara Desert, there is not a plentiful supply. Yet, they manage to survive.
It’s a standing joke that the country has voted that the national drinks are not good old H2O but, officially, beer and Jägermeister.
At the end of our trip, Bok and I had a drinking competition to see who can drink the most Jägermeisters in 6 hours. It started with a few, then crept up to 15 and, so, it continuously flowed … until he won the gruesome duel 36/35.
To rise from the dreaded hangover, there is nothing better to wake to than the fragrance of ‘egte boere koffie’, affectionately known as ‘My Moer’ in Afrikaans.
It’s a case of ground coffee in an enamel cup, over an open fire, just add water.
What I learnt during that trip through Namibia was that, quite literally, being out and about is what enjoying good food is all about.
Ich lieber sudwest.