Saturday, 17 November 2012

Beef & Venison Bourgignon in the Potjie

A twist on the French classic dish, and cooked over an open fire. Perfect.

We had planned a Friday evening dinner party, so we needed something that could be prepared and cooked the night before. Our brazier had been extremely neglected for far too long so I was champing at the bit to fire it up and enjoy the still, dark autumn evening.

Originally, the bourgignon was going to be just venison, but my Thursday visit to the local butcher across the road from our office forced me to do a swift re-think. They had only half the amount of venison I needed to feed eight, so I decided to top it up with beef chuck steak and hope for the best.

There is a fair amount of preparation involved, mainly the painstaking task of peeling what seems to be a never-ending pile of tiny shallots. Don't shortcut however, as the effort is totally worth it.

The potjie is just ideal for this type of dish. Hot at first to sear the bacon, meat and mushrooms, then a long gentle cook using just about anything that burns as fuel. Unlike the fire needed for an open grill, a potjie fire is very forgiving. I used offcuts from a bookcase I made for our Luca over a few 'spare' weekends, plus bits of a broken oak toilet seat I had secretly stashed in the garage. My wife insisted that it be thrown away and NEVER be burnt to cook with. So I smiled sweetly and hid it, knowing exactly what I was going to do with it.

This recipe can be cooked on the hob or in the oven, so if you don't have your own potjie (a traditional African three legged pot) don't let yourself miss out. This recipe is to die for. But on the other hand, you could go and get one and enjoy an outdoor fire on a beautiful, still, cold evening.

For the quantities for my shopping list, I started with a Gordon Ramsay recipe I found at However, having made plenty of bourgignon's in the past, I was thinking of ways to make it outstanding. So here are a few tips. Firstly, the sauce needs thickening, so I added a heaped desert spoon of plain flour early on. Secondly, to add some real punch,  immediatley before serving I stirred in a mixture of finely chopped garlic, thyme and mushrooms, leaving some aside for a fresh, pungent, and colourful garnish. I seasoned the dish heavily, with lots of black pepper and sea salt, ground in a pestle and mortar.

All those aromas combined with the rich, glossy sauce and tender slow cooked meat packs some serious punch, and leaves a lingering peppery aftertaste. It went down a treat, our guests loved it.


- 1.2 kg of beef/venison shoulder, 3-4cm dice
- 1.5 bottles of red wine
- 200g cubed pancetta or finely chopped streaky smoked bacon
- 400g chestnut mushrooms, halved
- 50g chestnut mushrooms finely chopped for garnish
- A few sprigs of fresh thyme or marjoram (keep some for the garnish)
- 500g shallots, peeled, whole
- 1 tomato, chopped
- 3 cloves of garlic, whole
- 2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped for garnish
- 1 tbsp tomato puree
- 1 heaped desert spoon plain flour

Frying the bacon first to release the fat


Start by preparing all of the ingredients. I wish I had noticed Gordon Ramsay's tip about pouring boiling water of the shallots... it makes the skins slip off, rather than the painstaking way I peeled each one individually... next time!

Heat up the potjie over a small fire, then add the bacon/pancetta. No oil needed as the bacon fat does the job. Once the bacon is cooked, remove it, leaving the fat in the pot. Then brown the beef/venison with the thyme and remove it from the pot. Brown the shallots and remove them also. The pot needs to remain really hot during this stage. Finally, fry the mushrooms and tomato for a few minutes before returning the previous items plus the tomato puree to the pot. Add the flour and stir it through, then add the wine and bring it to a gentle simmer.

Browning the meat

I hate using a flash at night, so I tried using a torch instead

Check that the fire remains low and stir from time to time. After about one hour, taste and check for seasoning. Add lots of pepper and a bit of salt. Cook for a further hour and remove from the fire.

I left mine in the pot in the kitchen overnight before re-heating on the hob the following evening. When hot and ready to serve, check for seasoning again (go on, add more pepper and a bit more salt), add the finely chopped garlic and stir through. Serve onto hot plates and sprinkle over more finely chopped mushrooms and the remaining fresh herbs.

We served the dish with crispy roast potatoes, roast chanterey carrots and steamed green beans. Hearty, wholesome, aromatic and peppery. What more could you want at this time of year.

For a starter, I made a light and refreshing salmon mouse and my wife made a delightful pecan pie for desert.

Our lovely Lolly sniffing around for tidbits

Luca's book case, the offcuts provided fuel for our meal

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