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!

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