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.

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28 Comments

  1. We always have chopped tomatoes and sliced bananas and chutney on the side. The banana tones down the spice.

  2. Notice you recommend a casserole dish. Ever tried cast iron? And I have a source for lemon leaves, will that work or should I stick with the bay leaves?

    Love your recipes! Have learned so much from your blog and Buck Buck Moose.

    Thanks

  3. As always, another amazing recipe! Being from Wisconsin, I added some cheddar cheese to the cream and eggs. I also substituted dried WI cranberries since I didn’t have any golden raisins. It was FANTASTIC! Thanks for another great experience.

    Can’t wait until we get your next cookbook!

  4. Wife thought it looked like a dog’s mess and wasn’t looking forward to eating it. When she tried it though she said it was the best thing she had tried in a long time! Was able to source the Major Gray chutney at Kroger and served it with naan bread. The whole family loved it. We ate it while watching Alabama kick Ohio State’s ass in the National Championship. Win! Win!

  5. Holy Moly what a surprise! This recipe is straight up delicious. I read past it in the cookbook many times because the picture doesn’t do it justice for the flavor. I used peach jam due to not finding the other options and it was great. I didn’t expect to like this as much as I did.

  6. Made this last night – it was a huge winner. Very easy and great way to use ground venison. I had tamarind paste but Mango Chutney would work. The golden raisins are a must. At the table I had garnishes of: Mango Chutney, Peanuts and Sweetened Flaked Coconut. I only added 1/8 tsp of Cayenne pepper as we do not like a lot of heat. I used a blend of Penzy’s Now Curry and Penza’s Maharaja Curry which ended up being plenty hot for us so next time I would leave the cayenne out. Served with Naan and rice. Also made wonderful leftovers.

  7. I’ve made this twice … once with venison from a hunt and once with ground beef. Delicious! I preferred the venison version slightly but that could just be personal preference. Wouldn’t change a thing. Thank you!

  8. Love this recipe. I was a bit scared to use all the cayenne, so I cut it in half and it was perfect for me. Spicy (but not hot) in your mouth. Then after you swallow, this gentle warmth in your throat happens. Love, love, love this recipe!!!

  9. This may be a dumb question. But you squeeze the milk out of the bread. Do you squeeze it into the mixture or do you not put the milk in the dish? Thank you.

  10. This turned out amazing. My wife and 11 month old loved it, too – leftovers were short-lived. One note: be sure to include golden raisins

  11. Going to try this for Christmas this year. At which point do you add the peach jam…I didn’t see it in the steps.
    Thanks in advance

  12. Glad I decided to give this one a shot, it strikes a good balance between familiar and exotic while being super easy to put together. The fact that it tastes great comes as no surprise either. Thanks, Hank!

  13. So good!!

    Made this with my daughter as a girl scout activity. So good it’s now going to be a regular of ours. I suggest the Mango chutney, lime, and lose the rasins.

    Thanks Hank.

  14. My husband made this tonight. Delicious, filling, and quite easy! A great autumn comfort food meal. Started at kickoff and we were eating by halftime. Even our baby ate it and we made it spicy! We used mango chutney (because we couldn’t find tamarind paste) and he subbed dried apricot for the raisins. I think the raisins would be better. We don’t usually eat carbs so I personally could use maybe one less slice of bread but that’s just me feeling guilt for the white bread! I probably would have been leery to try this if it didn’t come from Hank, but glad I did.

  15. This is one of my favorite recipes in the book. You get a really tasty, balanced dish that is a bit exotic, but is made from easily obtainable ingredients. Perfect meal for breakfast, and you can eat it again for dinner! I’ve used both tamarind and chutney as the sweeteners, and both are great. Double the cayenne if ou are adventurous!

  16. I just made this for the first time this weekend, and it was absolutely wonderful. Very tasty combination of flavors. I will definitely make this again.

  17. Made this for supper tonight! Only had one pound of venison left in the freezer, so used a pound of ground beef as well. Delicious recipe! Used the teaspoon of cayenne that you recommended, and the heat was on point! Thanks, Hank!

  18. I made this with venison a couple years back…manually minced the leg roast because I didn’t have a grinder then. The combination of sweet and sour from the dried fruit and chutney with the South Asian spices certainly makes it interesting, I think I also used a bit of piri piri sauce. I like your idea of the egg and cream mixture to top, I think I only did egg, perhaps a little spiced, though. I view it as an exotic, adventurous Shepherd’s/Hunter’s Pie (which is also great with venison and a mainstay around here).