Spicy Seafood Potjie- in a sensational sauce

*naturally, the pics were taken in a baby potjie, not my big monster bad boy*

Cooking stews in a three-legged cast iron pot or potjie (very much like the witches’ cauldrons in Macbeth) over coals or open flame is a South African tradition, as local as eating naartjies (mandarins) at a rugby game or giving biltong (dried, salted meat) to ex-pat South Africans (or anyone else, for that matter) as gifts.

I purchased our very first potjie pot earlier this year, and for all the pride and delight I felt, you would have thought I was in the le Creuset store and not the local Builder’s Warehouse. It was (and is) large, and large was what I was looking for to feed 16- 20 guests for our new-ish home’s first proper National Braai day (Heritage day) celebrations.

The menu consisted of:

– warm baguette and dukkah with olive oil

– Butter bean Chorizo Salad

– Greek Salad

-Lime & Soy Thai style chicken wings

– Rosemary Quail (brought by my cheffy friend Neill)

– Moroccan Spiced Karoo Lamb

– Peppermint crisp Tart to end.

– Spicy Seafood Potjie to start.

I wanted the tomato based sauce to be deep and exceptional in flavour. Seafood cooks so quickly, but if you give it a wonderful flavour base, it will soak it up. I made the sauce on the braai (ours has provision for a potjie pot) the night before. The marinated sun dried tomato, chilli marinated garlic and fish sauce are some of my trusty tricks to add layers of flavour – tang and savouriness, none of which can be discerned individually but which add to the sum of the whole. I added the seafood just as we were ready to serve, but seared the calamari on the stove, not wanting to risk the possibility of it turning horribly, and unappetizingly elastic in texture.

I used quantities I thought would cater for 20 and I did have left overs, after serving large starter sized bowls of potjie.


Serves up to 20 starter portions

75 ml olive oil

1 1/2 large onions, sliced

4 bay leaves

2 red chillis, chopped (remove seeds, if you prefer)

8 cloves garlic, sliced (I used beautiful marinated garlic from Barcelona)

4 x 410 g canned peeled, chopped tomatoes, blended

2 x 125 g sun dried tomatoes, marinated in vinagarette, chopped

3/4- 1 cup water

2-3 t chilli flakes (according to your preference)

2 heaped t sugar

1 t fish sauce

salt, to taste

4 T Italian parsley, finely chopped + extra

2 kg mussels, fresh if possible, bearded and washed, just prior to cooking

500 g kingklip (or other firm white fish), cubed into bite-size chunks

750 g calamari tubes, fins removes and washed

lemon wedges, to serve

Use prawns (not very economical for 20 though) and other firm white firm if you prefer.

The mussels used, were farmed on the West Coast.

All the seafood for this potjie was purchased from Ocean Jewels Fresh Fish, with advice from lovely Julie Carter

For the tomato base

Heat the pojie on the braai or over a flame or a large cast iron pot on the stove on medium heat.

Add 45 ml oil and the onions.

Fry for a few minutes, stirring.

Add bay leaves and chopped chillis.

When onions have softened, add the pureed canned tomato and sundried tomatoes.

Cook, stirring for a few minutes, watching out for splattering – the sauce will start to thicken. Add water, sugar, chili flakes, fish sauce and salt.

Cook for 10 minutes, lowering the heat and allowing the flavours to develop. Add the parsley

The sauce will continue to deepen in flavour as it cools.

Store in a cool place once cooled, if using the next day. If not, proceed with seafood.


Place potjie back on braai (or pot on stove). Taste and re-season, if you prefer.

Discard all mussels that do not open. You can tap them gently and give them a few minutes- some may open yet.

Add mussels and kingklip to the sauce. Allow to cook on medium-low heat for 7-8 minutes, until the fish is cooked through.

In mean while, dry the calamari on kitchen paper towels. Pan fry in a non stick pan, on high, with a tablespoon or two of olive oil until brown on both sides. Should take 30 seconds per side. Remove and add to potjie.

Mix all the seafood through the sauce gently and season one last time.

Serve with lemon wedges, more parsley and slices of crusty bread.

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