Oxtail and red wine potjie

OxtailPotjie©Rosana_McPhee-2026
Photo courtesy and © Rosana McPhee 2014

 

Pop quiz:  what do all the following dishes have in common?

  • Marmite
  • Tagine
  • Balti
  • Cassoulet
  • Tian
  • Potjie

They do not seem to be linked by nationality or even broad geographic region; nor does the link seem to be ingredient-related.  They do not share an alliterative first letter; nor do they rhyme.  Baffled yet?  The answer is that they are all dishes that are named after the vessel in which they were originally cooked.  A French marmite is a traditional crockery casserole dish famed for its pot-bellied shape, usually used for stews or stocks. Marmite spread was originally sold in little miniature marmites  and the current pot-bellied bottle is a nod to its history.  A tagine is the traditional shallow clay cooking pot of North Africa with its distinctive domed lid – or the stew that is slow-cooked inside it. A balti is a small two-handled steel bowl and it has given its name to a variety of Indian curries cooked in it. A cassoulet is  french stew named after its traditional cooking vessel, the cassole: a deep, round, earthenware pot with slanting sides. The tian is a Provencal shallow earthenware dish in which a layered vegetable dish (a tian!) is cooked. Which brings us to the potjie (say “poy-key”) – both a South African 3-legged black cast-iron pot as well as the slow cooked layered stews cooked inside it, over an open fire. Three legged pots are not unique to South Africa – presumably they landed here from Europe with the Dutch settlers and travelled inland with the Voortrekkers on their ox wagons.  But the culture and cooking methods that have sprung up around the potjie certainly are unique to the country.  Strictly speaking, the stew that is produced is called a potjiekos (literally “pot food”) and there are numerous local and national potjiekos competitions held in South Africa each year (competition is fierce and recipes closely guarded!). But above all, a potjie is a very sociable way of cooking: because the cooking time is at least 3-6 hours, there is plenty of time for sitting around shooting the breeze with friends and having a few beers.

 

OxtailPotjie2 © J Horak-Druiff 2014

 

Ingredients in a potjie can vary from red meat to chicken or even seafood, but for the purist it has to be some sort of red meat. In addition, there will be vegetables that need slow cooking (potatoes, carrots, onions and the like) and then vegetables that don’t nee much cooking which can be added towards the end of the cooking process (spinach, mushrooms and the like).  Seasoning and spices are essential, as is the cooking liquid which may range from stock to beer to wine. First, you need to prepare your coals; then the meat has to be seasoned and browned in the base of the pot in a little oil of butter; and then the vegetables are layered on top of the meat in descending order of hardness before the cooking liquid is added.  Then the lid is shut and all you need to do is keep replenishing the coals – stirring is prohibited! The result, even when using the cheapest cuts of meat, is a fragrant one-pot meal of tender meat and vegetables – perfect for sharing with friends.

 

Over the years, Nick and I have made a variety of potjies but somehow we have not got round to doing one of the classics: the oxtail potjie.  Despite being a staple in my mother’s kitchen, oxtails are relatively hard to come by in this country – none of the big supermarkets seem to sell them near me so you may need to find a proper butcher. Beware though: it is no longer the cheap cut of meat it once was – prices start from about £7 per kilo (and you are paying for a lot of bone…). The good news is that it is quite rich and with some vegetables added into the mix, it goes a long way and it is addictively tasty. We doubled up a very slightly modified version of this recipe from Potjiekos World, omitting the sherry and the cream and the results were excellent, with the meat falling off the bones and a rich, satisfying flavour.  Best of all?  It tasted even better the following night, reheated and served with creamy polenta and French beans!

 

OxtailPotjie1 © J Horak-Druiff 2014    

Rosana (who took the initial photo) has also done a fantastic post covering the braai where we served this – well worth a read!

Other oxtail recipes you may enjoy:

My other potjiekos recipes you may enjoy:

4.8 from 5 reviews
Oxtail and red wine potjie
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
A potjiekos is a traditional South African stew, slow cooked in a cast-iron pot over an open fire. This one combines the richness of oxtails and red wine to provide a delicious, hearty one-pot meal.
Author:
Recipe type: Entree
Cuisine: South African
Serves: 8-10
Ingredients
  • 500gfresh oxtails (get your butcher to slice them into pieces in between the bones)
  • 10 slices of bacon cut into 2.5cm pieces
  • ½ cup flour, seasoned liberally with salt and pepper
  • 1 litre beef stock
  • 115g tomato paste
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 6 black peppercorns
  • 1 bouquet garni
  • 4 large leeks, chopped coarsely
  • 2 large onions, chopped coarsely
  • 6 large carrots, 2chopped coarsely and 4 diced finely
  • 20 button mushrooms, quartered
  • 250ml red wine
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons crushed garlic
Instructions
  1. Wipe the oxtails dry with a paper towel.
  2. Put seasoned flour in a resealable plastic bag, then add the Oxtail and shake to coat with flour.
  3. Heat the butter and olive oil in the potjie (either over coals or gas) and sauté bacon pieces.
  4. Remove bacon, add the oxtail to the pot and brown in the bacon fat.  When each piece is browned all over, remove and drain on paper towels whiloe keeping warm.
  5. Add the 4 finely diced carrots to the pot together with the chopped onions and the leeks, and sautée until softened.
  6. Reteurn the oxtail and bacon to the pot and add the bouquet garni, bay leaf, peppercorns, garlic, tomato sauce, beef stock and red wine.
  7. Bring slowly to the boil (if you got this far on gas, now is the time to transfer it to the coals). Cover tightly with a lid and allow to cook undisturbed for 4 hours.
  8. One hour before serving, add the remaining carrots and mushrooms and continue cooking slowly, without stirring.
  9. If you want a thicker sauce, stir in some cornstarch mixed with cold water just before serving over rice or polenta (or mieliepap !)

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  1. says

    You would not believe how excited I am to see this recipe. I fell in love with this dish in SA and have been desperate to make a version here. OH also wanted to buy the pto to bring back with him but we had no space after buying the tire swing and a gazillion spices. Def bookmarking this one.

    • Jeanne says

      Oh I am so pleased that you know the joys of a potjie! And OMG I can’t believe you brought back a tyre swing :) You can buy the pots over here, from South African shops like Hunters – might be worth looking into? And a lot cheaper than what the excess baggage charges would be 😉 Do let me know if you try the recipe.

  2. says

    So aside from the vessel seems these are all lovely comfort foods. Slow cooking so nice for cuts like this. We did make a slow braised oxtail stew then turned the meat into croquettes. Such a lovely tender meat once cooked.

  3. says

    What a fantastic rich slow cooked dish to enjoy now that I feel the weather turning. I have a very good butcher near to me who I am sure sells oxtails and I have always wanted to cook them. I only wish I could find such a handsome pot to cook it in!

  4. says

    I love stews be it tagine, cassoulet or balti when it’s cold out! This looks so comforting and perfect as we have had a few cooler days however I am still lingering a bit longer in summer :) I’ve got to try this as the potje has been on my list to dos for ages!