I know, I know. What is bobotie? It’s a venison casserole. I am not normally a fan of casseroles, but this one’s different. This is bobotie, one of the national dishes of South Africa.
It’s shockingly easy to make, as spicy as you want it to be. Meaty, a touch sweet. Rich. Comforting. I’m a believer.
Bobotie, pronounced boh-BOH-tee, is — amazingly — a dish with ancestry 2000 years old. The Roman gourmand Apicius described a dish very much like bobotie in his De Re Coquinaria called Patinam ex lacte, which consisted of meat, pine nuts, some dried fruit and herbs, baked until done, then topped with a mix of milk and eggs, which was allowed to set.
That’s pretty much what bobotie is, two millennia later.
Variations on this dish remained popular in Europe all the way into the 1600s. And, as it happened, that’s when the Dutch began carving out a trading empire. And part of that empire included the Cape of Good Hope, where South Africa’s Capetown is today.
What’s up with the funky name? Also look to the old Dutch empire. Most think it has something to do with Indonesia or Malaya in Southeast Asia, where variations on the word refer to curry spices. Both places were Dutch territories back in the 1600s, and it is believed they carried this dish to Capetown when it was founded in 1652.
Southeast Asia definitely has an influence on this casserole. Bobotie needs curry powder (hot or mild), and one other sweet-sour thing, typically Major Grey’s or some other mango chutney, or tamarind paste. I’ve seen recipes with apricot or peach jam, too.
Mutton, beef or pork are typically the meat of choice, but I like it better with venison — any kind will do. You want it relatively lean, as the final topping of the whipped up eggs and cream adds quite a bit of richness.
Serve bobotie with rice or bread, and either a salad or some pickles. Enjoy!
(Not exactly what you’re looking for? Here are more recipes for deer burger or ground venison. )
- 3 slices white bread
- 2 cups milk
- 2 large onions, chopped (about 3 cups)
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 2 garlic cloves, chopped
- 2 pounds ground venison
- 2 tablespoons mild curry powder
- 2 teaspoons garam masala, or ½ teaspoon ground clove and 1 1/2 teaspoons ground allspice
- 1/3 cup chopped cilantro or parsley, loosely packed
- Cayenne pepper to taste (I use 1 teaspoon)
- 2 tablespoons tamarind paste, mango chutney or peach jam
- 3 tablespoons golden raisins (optional)
- 3 citrus leaves or bay leaves
- Juice of a lemon or lime
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 2 large eggs
- Preheat the oven to 325°F. Soak the bread in 2 cups of milk.
- Cook the onions in the butter over medium heat until they’re soft, about 6 to 8 minutes. Sprinkle some salt over them as they cook. Add the garlic and the venison and brown well. Salt this as it cooks, too. Break apart the ground venison as it cooks so it looks like taco meat.
- When it’s pretty much browned, add the curry powder, tamarind and all the remaining spices and herbs, and the raisins if using. Cover the pan, add the lemon or lime juice, and let this cook for a few minutes.
- Squeeze out the milk from the bread and mash it into the mixture. Turn off the heat. Move the mix into a casserole dish and press it down well.
- Beat the eggs and cream together and pour over the casserole. Bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour, until the egg mixture is set and turning golden.