Skopo or Smiley is a classic South African delicacy traditionally enjoyed on New Year’s Day after attending church. Getting fall-off-the bone tender Skopo with rich, meaty flavour takes careful preparation. In this handy article Knorrox brings you the ultimate guide to mastering a sheep head recipe.
A Smiling Tradition
Skopo is a Zulu tradition. Over generations it has become a street food mostly enjoyed by commuters at taxi ranks and bus stations. The reason why Skopo is so popular is that the entire head is edible and contains a lot of nourishing meat. This meat is filled with protein and tastes delicious when prepared correctly.
Seeing as there is a lot of Indian flavour influence in KwaZulu-Natal many dishes are curry infused. Smileys are no different and often a little chilli is added to please the palates of those who prefer things a little more spicy. The Karoo brings with it another interesting take on Skopo – cooked with lemon and rosemary and slow-roasted in the oven.
Do you know where the nickname “Smiley” comes from? When a sheep’s head is placed on very high heat, the meat contracts causing the sheep’s lips to pull away from its teeth, creating a smile.
How To Cook A Sheep's Head
There are many sheep head recipes and over the years preferred cooking methods have evolved. One thing that remains constant is the need to remove the fur, and clean and halve the head.
Cleaning and halving Skopo
• Use garden scissors to remove thick fur.
• Place the sheep’s head on a braai or use a flame torch or burner. This will burn the fur and make it easier to remove with a long knife. You can also scrub the fur off with a scouring pad.
• Clean the head in cool water and wash off any remaining dirt or fur. Rinse the mouth, ears and tongue thoroughly.
• Halve the sheep’s head by chopping it with an axe or a butcher’s cleaver.
• Remove the brain.
• The meat is now ready to be transformed into a sheep head dish.
Traditional Zulu Method
According to some local Skopo traders the traditional way of preparing Skopo is to boil it in a big pot on medium heat for an hour until it is juicy and tender.
Well-known South African food blogger Thuli from Mzansi Style Cuisine, recommends a cooking time of two hours. But no matter what time you give it, all Skopo chefs know the importance of spices and seasoning in their Skopo recipes.
Cooking traditional Skopo
• A good idea is to use two Knorrox stock cubes dissolved in boiling water before adding your Smiley. This will give the Skopo a flavourful base to marinate in.
• Once soft and tender, you can remove the Skopo from the broth. Traditionally the Skopo would now just be pulled off the bone and served on pap, but Thuli recommends first grilling the meat in an oven to give it a crispy texture.
• To do this, rub the Skopo with a seasoning mix such as Knorrox Barbeque Spice to give it a smoky taste.
• Now add a little olive oil and put it under the grill for 15 minutes.
• When the Skopo is golden brown and crispy, is it ready.
Add A Little Spice
Another interesting take on a Smiley is a curried Skopo. Skopo prepared this way sells like hot cakes on the streets of Durban.
To make curried Skopo
• Use spices like Masala curry powder, turmeric, roasted cumin and ginger.
• Fry your meat with these spices and two chopped onions. You can even add a little garlic.
• Add two Knorrox beef stock cubes dissolved in boiling water to create a sauce.
• Pour this over your Smiley.
• Add vegetables like carrots, potatoes and spinach.
• Slow-cook this for an hour until your potatoes are fluffy and most of the broth has reduced to a thick sauce.
Your curried Skopo can be served in a half loaf of white bread as a Skopo Bunny Chow or on rice.
Skopo Done The Farmer's Way
Another option for cooking Skopo, popular in areas like the Karoo, involves slow roasting it in the oven at 160°C.
To make farmstyle Skopo:
After cleaning and preparing your sheep’s head, rub it with olive oil.
Create your own seasoning mix by chopping two fresh sprigs of rosemary, salt, pepper, one teaspoon of Knorrox All-in-One spice and two teaspoons of lemon juice.
Coat the Smiley with this mixture.
• Add chopped potatoes, carrots and onions to the bottom of the roasting tray.
• Place the Skopo in the oven at 160°C for two hours.
• Remove it from the oven and create a gravy using the juices and veggies at the bottom of the oven dish.
• Place the Smiley back in the oven for 15 minutes on the grill setting to brown. Now your Skopo is ready to pull off the bone.
• Serve it on cous-cous or cauli-rice for a different spin on an old favourite.
Whether you stick to the traditional Zulu method of preparing Skopo or try out a less traditional Smiley, your meal will be delicious. With these useful Skopo recipes you cannot go wrong – and you’ll have some fun along the way.