South African Bobotie

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This is South African bobotie, a casserole of venison or beef with curry and a baked custard on top. Sounds odd, but it tastes amazing. And this bobotie recipe is shockingly easy to make, as spicy as you want it to be, meaty, and a touch sweet. Rich. Comforting. I’m a believer.

South African bobotie, ready to eat.
Photo by Holly A. Heyser

I know, I know. What is South African bobotie? It’s basically a beef or venison casserole. I am not normally a fan of casseroles, but this one’s different. Bobotie, pronounced buh-BOH-tee, is — amazingly — a dish with ancestry 2000 years old.

The Roman gourmand Apicius described a dish very much like a bobotie recipe 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.

What’s in South African Bobotie?

Any bobotie recipe 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 lamb are typically the meat of choice, but I ate it in South Africa in the 1990s made with kudu and eland, so I figured it would be fine with venison. You want it relatively lean, as the final topping of the whipped up eggs and cream adds quite a bit of richness.

My bobotie recipe includes a panade, a French term for a paste made from bread and milk; most recipes include this. You add bread to a bobotie for the same reason you would, say, a meatloaf or venison meatballs — to keep the mix tender. If you leave this out your casserole will be dry. 

Some recipes include citrus leaves and raisins (mine does), and some leave them out. 

How to Serve Bobotie? 

I normally serve South African bobotie with rice or bread, and either a salad or some pickles. I’ve seen it served as part of a big spread with boerewors sausage, potato salad and cole slaw, green beans and the like.

You can make this bobotie recipe ahead of time and reheat it if you’d like. Covered, it will keep several days in the fridge. It does not freeze well, although you could freeze the main part of the casserole minus the topping of egg and cream.

(Not exactly what you’re looking for? Here are more recipes for deer burger or ground venison. )

South African bobotie, ready to eat.
4.92 from 24 votes

Bobotie

This is one of the national dishes of South Africa. You can make bobotie with any ground meat, but I typically use deer burger. You can make this as spicy or mild as you want. It reheats well, too, and will keep in the fridge for a week. 
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: South African
Servings: 8 people
Author: Hank Shaw
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour
Total Time: 1 hour 50 minutes

Ingredients 

  • 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
  • Salt
  • 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

TOPPING

  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 2 large eggs

Instructions 

  • 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.

Nutrition

Calories: 442kcal | Carbohydrates: 19g | Protein: 30g | Fat: 27g | Saturated Fat: 15g | Cholesterol: 190mg | Sodium: 226mg | Potassium: 633mg | Fiber: 2g | Sugar: 10g | Vitamin A: 785IU | Vitamin C: 3.1mg | Calcium: 153mg | Iron: 4.6mg

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

Tried this recipe? Tag me today!Mention @huntgathercook or tag #hankshaw!

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About Hank Shaw

Hey there. Welcome to Hunter Angler Gardener Cook, the internet’s largest source of recipes and know-how for wild foods. I am a chef, author, and yes, hunter, angler, gardener, forager and cook. Follow me on Instagram and on Facebook.

4.92 from 24 votes (5 ratings without comment)

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28 Comments

  1. Great Recipe. Having lived in South Africa for many years this recipe is as good as it gets. Very close to the cape maylaysan recipe is that I have.I am back in Germany and this is my friends favourite dish when I make it.

  2. I will first admit that I have not made Bobotie from this recipe yet, but as a frequent traveler to Cape Town, I can already tell that it’ll be spot on – as much as possible since Bobotie is sort of like “meatloaf” in the U.S., every home has its own method, yet it’s still all the same. Cooler weather coming to the Gulf Coast soon, it is already on a weekend menu.

  3. Another great recipe from Hank Shaw. I wanted a dish with ground venison but not tomato-y or cottage pie and settled on Bobatie. I even had tamarind sauce in fridge.

    Recipe is easy to follow and has a lot of good flavours.

  4. Great recipe. I have made it with both venison and beef, and with tamarind paste and mango chutney (after I ran out of tamarind paste and it was easier to find mango chutney). All versions have been delicious.