In this post we want to introduce one of our most valuable (and also the heaviest) pieces of cooking gear, the "Petromax Feuertopf".
These iron cast pots are also called "Dutch Oven" (mainly in north America), "casserole dishes" (in some English speaking countries) or "Potjie" in southern Africa.
The "ancestors" of these pots travelled with the first white settlers to the American "West", went across the sea with Jan van Riebeeck and today can be found in almost all households all over southern Africa.
There are various different sizes and varieties and "relatives" of the Dutch Oven can be found in many countries, e.g. on the Balkans and even in Australia.
Special for our "Petromax Dutch Oven" is the flat bottom which is good for baking bread, and the lid, which can also be used on the fire as a pan. It is also possible to add hot coals onto the lid when the "Feuertopf" is in the fire to have heat both from above and below.
The history of the "Dutch Oven" goes back to the 17th century, when these pots were made in northern Europe, the best pots actually to be found in what today is The Netherlands. That's where the name "Dutch Oven" originates.
In Southern Africa, every family has their own traditional and favourite version of "potjiekos", a kind of stew, but unlike a typical stew, "potjiekos" is not stirred in the cooking process. Instead the ingrediences such as different kinds of meat and vegetables spiced with the typical Dutch-Malayan-Indian-African variety of spices are added one after the other in different layers which are not supposed to mix. The cooking process is generally slow using a constant but rather low heat (which is distributed equally by the cast iron pot). As only very little sauce or water is used (sometimes also beer or other alcoholic beverages), the ingrediences in the pot are rather steamed than boiled.
The atmosphere around a campfire with one or more "Potjies" bubbling along in the fire is very social and it always feels a bit like "witchcraft" with a big black pot in the fire.
There actually is a great variety of different meals which can be made in a "Dutch Oven": stews, pizza, bread, rolls, gorgeous ratatouille ... the list could continue endlessly here.
We want to introduce three of our favourite dishes here:
At home but also when traveling we really like different varieties of veggie casserole. After greasing the pot, we add layer after layer of fresh vegetables (we actually prefer eggplant, onions, garlic, mushrooms, bell peppers and tomatoes with already boiled potatoes) spice it well, add some cream, water or broth ... top everything up with loads of cheese (favourably Swiss cheese like Gruyere, but Cheddar also works quite well), close the lid of the pot and let it simmer for 30 to 45 minutes. If you want, you can also add a layer of feta cheese.
On "Eisgaubib", our Namibian friend's farm, we created a new "Germibian" potjiekos recipy we call "Biltong-Sauerkraut Pot with Boerewors".
After the pot is put in the fire and greased with coconut oil, we first fry the onions, a bit later adding the sliced potatoes (raw), frying and stirring until the onions and potatoes are turning slightly brownish.
After that, you add a layer of sauerkraut, one with as much fine cut biltong as you like (we prefer spiced Oryx actually), and another one of sauerkraut.
We don't add water or broth but a good mug of a fresh and fruity white wine (depending on how you like your sauerkraut, this can be from dry wine to sweet).
You close the lid and let the potjie simmer for about 40 minutes and then add the Boerewors on top to be finished within the next ten to twenty minutes (you can of course also braai the boerewors instead and just put it on top of the potjiekos when serving).
One variety for the cheese lovers is adding a layer of cheddar or other cheese (favourably Swiss cheese again) on top after about half an hour after having started the cooking process.
To make this dish more "traditional", one could start with frying meat (preferably Orxy, Kudu or beef) in the pot until it is brown, then add the onions and fry them together with the meat for a while, and then add a layer of potatoes and continue as above.
Even though our "Dutch Oven" is a really heavy piece of gear and consumes quite a large portion of the very imited space in our Land Rover, we still would not want to travel without it. The older it gets also the more patina it gets and the food prepared in it will be getting better and better.
Just make sure that you only use hot water and a sponge for cleaning and that you dry it immediately after cleaning and add another layer of oil inside and outside. It will last a lifetime!
When we are down in South Africa, we will certainly buy one of the typical round-bottomed "Dutch Ovens" everybody uses here in addition to our "Petromax Dutch Oven".