Throwback Thursday: Durban Curry in a potjie

Throwback Thursday: Durban Curry in a potjie
Tony Jackman’s Durban curry cooked in a potjie. (Photo: Tony Jackman)

This is a Durban curry recipe for lamb or mutton, but it is cooked slowly in a potjie rather than in a pot on the stove. Making it special is that you toast your own spices first.

The lovely antique grinder I was given a year ago has been staring at me from the top shelf of the turquoise kitchen cupboard ever since. The idea of using such a lovely old piece of equipment in a Durban curry made in a potjie seemed strangely logical.

Anyway, it was a potjie kind of day. Still but not too hot. Just the hint of a breeze, barely discernible. My soul longs to spend a gentle afternoon on days like these, tending a pot while writing down a recipe or two in notes on my phone. That’s how I do these things: the notes app on my iPhone is almost as busy as my phone camera. I write a recipe, then make it, and if I am happy with the result, I share it with you.

I wandered into the kitchen and caught sight of the aged grinder, a handsome, rectangular affair with a jaunty handle at the top. There’s a cute little wooden drawer at the bottom. We’d seen it on a shelf in our friend Wilma de Beer’s antiek winkel and I had admired it; quietly, Di bought it when I was looking the other way, and gave it to me for my birthday last year. 

The antique grinder that ground toasted spices to tiny granular perfection. If you know the vintage of this old grinder, please email [email protected]. (Photo: Tony Jackman)

I rinsed the little drawer and let it dry in the warm air. I assembled the usual spicy suspects: fennel, cumin, fenugreek, mustard, coriander, cardamom, toasting all the seeds in a pan and pouring them into the grinder. The little drawer went back in, and to my relief the seeds were ground to a very fine powder by many turns of the handle.

Here’s that recipe, for one of these lovely shoulder-season weekends before winter really sets in.

(Serves 6-8 with rice)


Sunflower oil, about ⅓ cup

4 Tbsp garlic-ginger paste

3 cinnamon sticks

3 bay leaves

3 star anise

1 Tbsp fennel seeds

1 Tbsp cumin seeds

1 Tbsp mustard seeds

1 Tbsp fenugreek seeds

1 Tbsp cracked coriander seeds

8 cardamom pods

3 kg mutton pieces

3 or 4 heaped Tbsp good masala (Durban style, not Cape Malay)

2 x 400g cans of chopped tomatoes

Water to cover

Salt to taste (no pepper)

Fresh coriander and basmati rice to serve

Note: Durban Curry usually includes potatoes, but I did not use any. By all means add them (peeled and cubed) if you like.


A few coals on the potjie lid draws the heat to the top of the pot. (Photo: Tony Jackman)

Put all the seed spices and the cardamom pods in a pan on the hob, and put a medium heat under the pan. Toast them until a little smoke starts to rise from the spices, and immediately turn the heat off. Grind the toasted spices finely.

Prepare plenty of hot coals and keep them going throughout the cook.

Put coals around the perimeter of the base of the potjie. 

Pour a little oil (sunflower or canola) into the potjie and heat.

Add the cinnamon sticks, bay leaves and star anise, stir, and leave them to cook gently in the potjie until you can hear seeds crack.

Immediately add the ground toasted spices, stir, and leave for a minute or two.

Add the chopped onions and stir in the garlic-ginger paste. Let the onions braise with the spices for 5 minutes.

Coat the meat in masala and add to the potjie, stir and leave to braise.

Stir in the curry leaves and chillies, add the chopped tomatoes, plus water to cover, season generously with salt (but no pepper), put the lid on and place a few hot coals on top.

Simmer gently for about three hours or until the meat is tender but still holding together.

Serve with basmati rice, garnished with fresh coriander leaves. DM

Tony Jackman is Galliova Food Writer 2023, jointly with TGIFood columnist Anna Trapido. Order his book, foodSTUFF, here

Follow Tony Jackman on Instagram @tony_jackman_cooks.

This dish is photographed on a pan plate by Mervyn Gers Ceramics.


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • jcdville stormers says:

    Curry is the best!!!

  • William Lorentz says:

    So… I am no expert 😉 … But only comment there Tony is start by dry roasting your cinnamon sticks, bay leaves and star anise. Then add the oil and carry on as per your method.
    Some would say Nhaa. but there is a subtle change that I always enjoy.

  • timmyt says:

    Excited to see your Durban Curry in a Potjie recipe, however..
    Instructions ask for chopped onions to be added, but no onions appear in the ingredients list… So, how many and how big? (Suggest 2 medium-sized?)
    Similarly no mention of chillies nor curry leaves in the ingredients list. Again, how many of each do you suggest?
    And chillies vary considerably in heat and flavour, so what variety of chillies do you suggest for this recipe?

    • Rod H MacLeod says:

      There are almost as many Masala mixes as there are Indian chefs. Easy All-purpose Garam Masala Mix:
      4 tbsp cumin
      3 tbsp coriander
      3 tbsp cardamom
      3 tbsp cinnamon
      1 tbsp black pepper
      1 tbsp cloves
      1 tbsp ginger
      1 tsp nutmeg
      1 or 2 tsp chilli powder, or a dry smoked Jalapeñ0

      Transfer all the ingredients to a blender and pulse until well powdered.
      Store the powdered mix in an airtight container and keep it away from light. Use within 2 months. If you’re planning to store it for longer keep it in the refrigerator.
      Add some of these other spices in amounts to your own taste:
      Fenugreek, garlic, caraway, fennel, and/or mustard or onion seed.

  • Ken Barker says:

    What is the difference between Durban style masala and Cape masala. I need to make my own as neither are available here in Dorset.

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