The first thing I remember about my life is the day my mother scooped me up from the floor & dashed outside to see what my dad had shot this time. I was about 3 & we lived in Zambia on a tobacco farm surrounded by dense African bush; my dad shot for the pot so often that had an outside biltong house, a meat prep room adjoining the kitchen & lots of people working for us. On this particular day, my dad shot an elephant & despite everyone’s excitement, he seemed none to thrilled about it.
Notwithstanding his macho image, I believe he was a reluctant hunter who shot when he had to rather than one who enjoyed the chase; when he took me hunting at the age of 13 (for the first and last time) he was far more enthusiastic about the socializing aspect than the actual hunt. He was also particularly loathe to leave me behind with the ‘jong klomp’ when I had become so traumatized by my first & last kill that no amount of persuasion could change my mind about going out with them. I had decided that eating the meat was good & well but shooting for the pot quite another thing & that I simply couldn’t deal with it. Back to the elephant: years later I would learn that a rogue elephant had wandered into our garden which had left my father with no option but to shoot it – he was by no means the archetypical big game hunter. Of course he never hesitated to remind everyone who’d care to listen that he had used only one bullet & a highly unsuitable gun (he had only his carrying gun with him) but I knew what I knew. I cut my teeth on venison biltong and must have chewed my way through tens of tons of the stuff but it’s my mother’s roasted venison, venison pies and fynvleis that I miss the most.
Nobody can make a venison pie to equal hers or get the spicing for the fynvleis (spicy ripped venison) quite right but over the years I’ve managed to find a good many other venison dishes that would meet with my family’s approval and I’ve even learnt to cook some of them quite decently. Today I’m including a traditional South African venison potjie recipe from a book that I found in the garage after my dad died; it’s not as old as the others & was written by Dine van Zyl (the recipe has been adapted by me) and it’s never failed me.
- 1,5 kg venison of your own choice – I have made this with Springbok & Kudu – both African buck (not endangered) – cut up to taste
- 50g pancetta, diced
- 4 large red onions, sliced
- 4 carrots, peeled & sliced
- 3 fat cloves garlic, unpeeled
- 4 whole cloves
- 5 whole allspice
- 1 tbsp roasted coriander, ground
- 1 tbsp Maldon salt & about half that in freshly ground black pepper
- 4 whole bayleaves
- 1 whole star anise
- 1 black cardamom
- 350 ml water (in this instance water is necessary & not stock)
- 2 wineglasses redwine – I prefer using a Merlot-type wine in this instance because the pot doesn’t need anything more substantial
- 100 ml Balsamic vinegar – again, get a good one & not the an imitation
- 1 tbsp hot dried fruit chutney (like Mrs. Balls) or your own – it’s dead easy to make
- 1 large unwaxed lemon, finely grated zest (only the top layer of the lemon) and the juice
- 1 tangerine, finely grated zest only (optional)
- Fry the pancetta slowly in the potjie before adding the onions & the garlic and frying equally slowly until they are soft & translucent & a little gloopy; now pop in all the spices and the bay leaves, the lemon & tangerine zest, the tbsp of chutney & the sliced carrots and stir for about a minute.
- Now add the venison & stir it around in the onion & spice mixture to coat the outside of the meat with the flavours.
- Pour over the water, the wine & the vinegar and cover with the lid; this needs to cook over the coals for around 4 hours or even more.
- Once the meat is soft, stir in the lemon juice mix well with the meat; taste to see if it’s sour enough and adjust to taste – traditional South African venison potjies are a balance of tastes & should be sweet, sour, salty, spicy and with a touch of good heat.
- Note: I add a few well washed but unpeeled baby potatoes as well.