Sunday, March 8, 2015

One Pot Mushroom and Onion Poussin

This is the perfect recipe if you want to impress someone by giving them a whole pot all to themselves.  It's a baby chicken with caramelised onions, mushrooms and potatoes, served from a single pot and it looks amazing and tastes delicious.  In this recipe I use a size 1/2 potie with a flat bottom.  You could also use a similar-sized pladpotjie, which would arguably make browning the poussin easier but feels less cute.  


1 Poussin 
1 punnet of slice mushrooms
2 large white onions cut in rings
3 cups of finely cubed potatoes
1 small sliced leek
1 chicken stock cube
Olive oil
Pepper to taste

Cooking Instructions

Heat up the pot over coals or a fire, add some olive oil and when it sizzles put in the chicken.  It should come tied, don't cut the string until you serve it.

Brown the chicken until parts of it are golden brown.  This takes quite a bit of head on the pot and can be quite tricky when it comes to turning the chicken around inside the pot.  You will need two wooden spoons and try not to use anything that will break the skin.

Once the chicken is browned, take it out and place it to the side, somewhere that can't be reached by feral creatures or evil-looking ants.

Add some more olive oil and caramelise the onion rings.  I say this every time but do this step properly.  It takes long and you have to be patient.    

When your onions are done, add the chicken back to the pot. Using a wooden spoon, get some of the onions up and over the sides of the chicken and in the gap between the thigh and the leg.

Now press the mushrooms down the sides of the pot and pack them quite tight.  It's a small pot so it won't look like you can fit them initially.  Believe me you can.

Then, when its all looking neat and tidy, crush and spread the stock cube evenly over the chicken.  Do not make the mistake of adding salt to this pot because there will be salt in the stock cube.  I've forgotten that once and had to grovel for forgiveness as I throw away a great but too salty potijie and order Mr Delivery while the guests eye my meaty parts with a hungry look in their eye.  Think Delicatessen.  It's not cool.

Then, pack that thing tight by pressing the potato and leek mix into the remaining spaces and make it flash with the top of the pot.

Sprinkle a cup of water over the top.

Now close the pot and let it simmer gently for 1.5 hours.

When it comes out it will look beautiful.  The colour of the onions will have come up through the potatoes and it will smell like something sent down from the heavens (not brimstone, which spells like fart).

Carefully take out the poussin and put it on the plate.  This is the bit where you look like a hero. Born up a tree!

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Denningvleis Potjie (Spicy Lamb Pot) Recipe

This recipe is a Cape Malay dish called Denningvleis. It is one of the most tasty things you will ever eat, with a strong spicy flavour in the meat and made delicious by the tangy peaches. 

I used a spice pack I found at my local Spar but you can make the spice mix yourself if you want more precise control over the flavour.  If you do it yourself, the point is to get a taste of cloves and allspice, it's not a curry.  This recipe will feed 5 people because it uses a size 1 pot.  


1.5kg lamb knuckles or neck
3 large white onions sliced in rings
15 small peeled potatoes
500g small cubes of potato and leek
250g dried cling peaches

2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp course salt
1 tsp ground black pepper

5 whole dried chillies
5 crushed dried chillies
6-8 big cloves garlic, crushed
½ teaspoon grated nutmeg
6-8 whole cloves
6-8 whole allspice
1 teaspoon mustard seed
4 bay leaves

Cooking instructions

Start by heating up a size 1 potjie over some wood or coals.  When its quite hot add a little olive oil and brown the meat.  

During this process, add the crushed dried chillies and keep rotating the meat so that the flavour of the chillies cooks in why the browning is taking place.  

Every now and then someone asks me how brown you need to get the meat before it's done.  You want the meat to have golden brown edges but you don't have to cook it through, especially in a pot where the colour is going to come from the other ingredients.

When you decide the meat is done being browned, take it out and put it in a bowl where the flies, dogs and zombies can't get to it. 

Add more oil to the pot and insert onion rings and the whole dried chillies and caramelise them properly.  By this I don't mean fry them until they are translucent, or burnt black.  Budget 30 minutes for this at least and don't walk away from the pot for more than 5 minutes.  Some people will add brown sugar.  You can do this but you will know in your heart that you cheated.  I will know too. Onions are caramelised by patience not heat.

When you're done with that, put the meat back into the pot over the onions.  If you want to stir the meat and onions you can but I don't believe in doing that.  One of the most interesting things to see is how the colour of the onions rises to the top of the pot as a kind of indicator of the convection while it's cooking.  If you mix the meat and onions you're going to feel less satisfied in the end.

Now, add the peaches.  It's quite important to not overdo the ratio of peaches in the pot because they will become overwhelming if you add too many.  

Sprinkle the remainder of the spices evenly over on top of the pot and then add a layer of peeled small potatoes on top of the peaches.

And now for the trick. The potatoes should almost reach the top of the pot.  Seal it all in using the cubed potatoes and leeks enough that you can press it down a little to make the top quite firm.  The idea is that there is no room left along the top of the pot and that everything is quite firmly pressed.

Side note: In some traditional potjie recipes this sealing is done with grated cabbage.  This is a new experiment I'm working on that seems, based on the outcome, to be working very well.  The reason this works for me is that I prefer to pack and seal the pot and cook it as one process, whereas some people like cooking the meat for a while before adding the vegetables. It's a personal preference thing but I think the pot comes out different and better.

Sprinkle a cup of water evenly over the top.  This will move some of the spices lower into the meat layer.  This is NB, if you use my heating instructions below and skip this step you will burn the pot.

Next, close the lid and let the pot simmer for around 2 hours.  Because I have added all the vegetables and sealed it I start with quite a high heat and boil and then let the heat decrease over the two hours. This is difficult and I can't really explain how it's done (but I'll try). I've made shitloads of these things so it sort of comes naturally now.  If you start with the coals and heat you use to brown the meat, add one ring of coals to the outside as they start to drop off their heat.  Then you add a more sparse ring when those drop off, and from there onward you keep the pot heated with about 6 coals. You'll see I've use flat bottomed pots so the heat is coming from the sides not underneath, which also changes things a bit. Basically over a two hour period your heat curve needs to flatten out from a rapid boil to a slow boil.

When you take the lid off in two hours it should look like the picture below and the bigger potatoes should be cooked through but still quite firm.  Can you see how the convection has brought the colour of the onions all the way to the top of the pot?  That's the magic right there.

When you dig into it it's going to look like the most beautiful thing you've ever seen.  Plus, and let me not under-emphasise this point, the smell is incredible.  

Serve it up on a plate, no need for rice as you have these tasty potatoes as the starch. Bon apetit!