Beef Oxtail Pinotage Potjie, a Karoo take on Boeuf Bourguignon

Beef Oxtail Pinotage Potjie, a Karoo take on Boeuf Bourguignon
The potjie on the bubble. (Photo: Tony Jackman)

These shoulder season days are being kind to us in my part of the world – yours too I hope. Just right for getting the potjie out and making magic out of a pack of oxtail chunks. Let’s take the French route and make it our own.

All of the elements of a good, rich Boeuf Bourguignon are in this potjie dish. The beef, but rather than the “lean stewing beef” called for by Julia Child and others, we are using beef oxtail. Because that’s what we do down in the deep Karoo, and you can see your city garden turf as your own little Karoo.

The requisite pearl onions and mushrooms are there, and there just has to be the traditional bacon of the Bourguignon. I used rosemary, though thyme is often preferred in the traditional dish. But rosemary flourishes in the dry Karoo, and it just fits better with the robustness of a potjie.

There’s also a satisfyingly rich cooking stock or red wine and good beef stock with rosemary and tomato.

One thing I feel very strongly about is how to cook the onions and mushrooms, and when to add them. Both will be wasted and turn to mush during the long, slow cooking process. So they need to be cooked separately and added at the end.

The other massively important element, because this is oxtail, is the cooking time. Many potjies are done in three hours. Not this one. You need five hours just to get the oxtail tender,which means that in all, you need not five, but six hours. Because, and please take this very seriously: you need a full hour just to get the potjie properly on the go.

So, do what I do: start by deciding when you want to serve the potjie, and work your way backwards. I was aiming for 7pm. So I started at 1pm. Consequently, depending on your personal work schedule, a Saturday or Sunday is likely to be best for most people. This is a recipe to store up and plan for a weekend, but make it soon, unless you’re happy (as I am) to wrap up warmly for a lovely winter potjie on one of those sunny-chilly days that winter deigns to bestow on us.

I served this with creamy mashed potato.

Tony Jackman’s Beef Oxtail Pinotage Potjie

Tony Jackman’s Karoo-like take on Beef Bourguignon. May 2024. (Photo: Tony Jackman)

(Serves 4)


1.4 kg oxtail

Olive oil

200 g bacon (buy the cheapest)

1 large onion, diced (yes, you need basic onion in the prep as well as the pearl onions)

6 garlic cloves, finely chopped (4 for the pot and 2 for the mushrooms)

1 large carrot, sliced

2 or 3 Tbsp plain flour

For the cooking stock:

750 ml beef stock (I used Nomu concentrated liquid beef stock diluted with water)

500 ml Pinotage (of a quality to suit your budget)

2 Tbsp tomato purée

2 bay leaves

Salt to taste

Black pepper to taste

2 or 3 rosemary sprigs

To finish:

Handful of parsley, finely chopped

20 baby mushrooms

20 pearl onions (or baby onions as small as you can get)

Oil, butter, salt and pepper for the mushrooms and onions

Butter, milk (or cream), salt and white pepper for the mashed potato


Start with the oxtail: prepare plenty of hot coals and keep that fire going all through the duration of the cook. Put coals under the potjie, add oil, heat it, and brown off the oxtail chunks on all sides. Use wooden spoons to turn them over, and strong tongs to hold the pieces side-edge down to get those ends browned too. Then remove them to a side dish.

Sauté the bacon next so that you have that lovely bacon flavour in the pot when everything else is added. Add bacon to the browned oxtail.

There’ll be bacon fat in the pot too now, so sauté the onions and garlic in that along with the sliced carrots. Cook for three or four minutes, stirring.

Add the meat and bacon back, stir, and sprinkle the flour over. Toss the contents so that the flour coats everything. This will thicken the stock while it cooks.

For the stock, in a 2-litre jug or bowl, add the hot stock (made with boiling water and Nomu liquid beef stock or similar | check the label for the correct ratios), the red wine, stir in the tomato purée, add the bay leaves and rosemary sprigs, and season with salt an black pepper.

Pour this into the potjie and give it a stir.

Cover the potjie, keep adding hot coals around the lower perimeter, and a few on the potjie lid, and keep that fire going nearby for as long as it takes, and trust me, it will need five hours from the time you can first hear that gentle bubble when you put your ear (not too close) to the pot,

In the final half hour, go back into the kitchen, have a strong coffee, and cook the pearl onions gently in a pan in a little olive oil and butter, until golden and nutty. You can either stir the cooked pearl onions into the stew or scatter them over when serving.

Do the same with the mushrooms, cooking the liquid away as they release their juices, until brown and beautiful. Season both onions and mushrooms with a little salt and black pepper.

Pile some mashed potato on plates, add a good portion of oxtail on the side, and scatter the nutty mushrooms over, and the pearl onions if they have not yet been added. Garnish with chopped parsley.

Enjoy this wonderful gift of our South African life. Tending a potjie is one of the most satisfying pastimes I know of and if you’re prone to stress, as I am, please consider taking it up as a cooking hobby. You’ll feel just great. A whisky or beer to hand doesn’t harm either. 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 in wares by Mervyn Gers Ceramics.


Comments - Please in order to comment.

Please peer review 3 community comments before your comment can be posted

A South African Hero: You

There’s a 99.7% chance that this isn’t for you. Only 0.3% of our readers have responded to this call for action.

Those 0.3% of our readers are our hidden heroes, who are fuelling our work and impacting the lives of every South African in doing so. They’re the people who contribute to keep Daily Maverick free for all, including you.

The equation is quite simple: the more members we have, the more reporting and investigations we can do, and the greater the impact on the country.

Be part of that 0.3%. Be a Maverick. Be a Maverick Insider.

Support Daily Maverick→
Payment options