Hardbody chicken (uMleqwa): A delicious South African recipe

Hardbody chicken (uMleqwa): A delicious South African recipe

uMleqwa, or hardbody chicken in English, is a traditional isiZulu dish prominent across South Africa. The chicken is simmered over low heat with spices, herbs, and vegetables until tender and falling off the bone. This article highlights a simple uMleqwa recipe with readily available ingredients and easy steps to prepare a hearty and satisfying meal.

Hardbody chicken recipe
uMlenqwa served with pap (R). Photo: @realmrumadrive, @muneimudau on X (modified by author)
Source: UGC


uMleqwa is a versatile meal that pairs well with several delicious meals from the vast culinary landscape of South Africa. Popular traditional accompaniments include umngqusho (samp and sugar beans), pap (maize porridge), chakalaka (spicy vegetable relish), morogo (wild spinach), and roosterkoek (bread rolls cooked over an open flame).

Hardbody Chicken recipe

uMleqwa is more than just a meal in South Africa. It represents a deeply rooted cultural experience passed down through generations. Use the following recipe to learn how to cook hardbody chicken while retaining its rich taste and flavours.

  • Yield: 4-6 servings
  • Total cooking time: Approximately 2 hours

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  • 1 whole hardbody chicken (uMleqwa), approximately 2-3 kg
  • 2 onions, finely chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tomatoes, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Fresh cilantro for garnish
  • Cooked rice or pap (maize porridge) for serving

Cooking instructions

  • Clean the chicken thoroughly, removing any excess fat and giblets.
Preparing uMleqwa
Clean uMleqwa, removing excess fat. Gif: @Itani Malange on YouTube/giphy.com (modified by author)
Source: UGC
  • Pat the chicken dry with paper towels, cut it into serving pieces, and then season it generously with salt and pepper.
  • Heat vegetable oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat.
  • Add chopped onions and minced garlic to the pot. Sauté until the onions are translucent and aromatic, about 5 minutes.
  • Add ground cumin, coriander, paprika, ginger, and turmeric to the pot. Stir well to combine with the onions and garlic.
  • Allow the spices to toast for about a minute until fragrant.
  • Place the seasoned chicken pieces into the pot. Allow them to sear for about 5 minutes until golden brown.
  • Flip the chicken pieces and add chopped tomatoes to the pot. Stir gently to combine.

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Preparing uMleqwa
Add chopped tomatoes and other ingredients to the chicken pieces. Gif: @Itani Malange on YouTube/giphy.com (modified by author)
Source: UGC
  • Reduce the heat to low, cover the pot, and let the chicken simmer for about 1.5 hours or until the chicken is cooked through and tender. Stir occasionally and add water if needed to prevent sticking.
  • Once the chicken is fully cooked, taste and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper if necessary
  • Garnish with freshly chopped cilantro
  • Serve the hardbody chicken hot with cooked rice or pap (maize porridge).
Preparing uMleqwa
Once the hardbody chicken is cooked, taste and adjust the seasoning. Gif: @Chihuz Eats on YouTube/giphy.com (modified by author)
Source: UGC

How to cook hardbody chicken in a pressure cooker

If you want a quick uMleqwa recipe, pressure cooking is the ideal option. Many modern adaptations of traditional recipes incorporate pressure cookers for convenience and efficiency without compromising original taste.

  • Yield: 4-6 people
  • Total cooking time: 40-45 minutes


  • 1 whole hardbody chicken, approximately 2-3 kg
  • 2 onions, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tomatoes, chopped
  • 2 carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 1 tablespoon cooking oil
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 cups chicken broth or water
  • Fresh herbs for garnish

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Cooking instructions

  • Clean the chicken thoroughly, then pat it dry with paper towels before cutting it into serving pieces.
  • Season the pieces with salt, pepper, paprika, ground cumin, coriander, and dried thyme. Set aside.
  • Heat the cooking oil in the pressure cooker using the sauté function. Add the chopped onions and minced garlic. Sauté until the onions are soft and translucent.
  • Add the seasoned chicken pieces to the pressure cooker and brown them on all sides, about 3-4 minutes per side.
Preparing uMleqwa on a pressure cooker
Cook the chicken with tomatoes and other ingredients using the saute function. Gif: @Mrs Bangladesh Cooking on YouTube/giphy.com (modified by author)
Source: UGC
  • Once the chicken is browned, add the chopped tomatoes and chopped carrots to the pressure cooker.
  • Pour in the chicken broth or water, ensuring it covers the ingredients.
  • Close the pressure cooker lid and seal it according to the manufacturer's instructions.
  • Cook the chicken on high pressure for 20 minutes.
  • Once the cooking time is complete, allow the pressure to release naturally for about 10 minutes before manually releasing any remaining pressure.
  • Carefully open the pressure cooker lid and check the chicken for doneness. The internal temperature of the chicken should reach 165°F (75°C).

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Cooking uMleqwa with a pressure cooker
Cook uMleqwa at high pressure for about 20 minutes. Gif: @Mrs Bangladesh Cooking on YouTube/giphy.com (modified by author)
Source: UGC
  • Once the chicken is cooked through, transfer it to a serving platter along with the vegetables.
  • Garnish with fresh herbs and serve while still hot.


uMleqwa represents the delicious flavours of South Africa, whose timeless appeal makes them adaptable to other culinary traditions. Here are some frequently asked questions and answers to help you understand the decadent meal.

What is hardbody chicken?

Hardbody chicken, also known as uMleqwa in South Africa, is a type of chicken that is typically homegrown and free-range. Its active lifestyle results in tougher meat and harder bones than commercially raised chickens.

How long does it take to cook hardbody chicken?

The total cooking time varies with the recipe used. Stewing usually takes up to two hours to achieve tender and tasty meat, while pressure cooking can take about 30 minutes.

uMleqwa recipe South Africa
Hardbody chicken served on a plate. Photo: @mr_ndash, @chungleee_ on X (modified by author)
Source: UGC

How long does it take to boil hard chicken?

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Boiling hardbody chicken using the slow-cooking method can take up to two hours, depending on the size of the chicken pieces. The process allows the dish to absorb the broth flavours, resulting in a tasty, soft umleqwa.

What is the difference between hardbody chicken and normal chicken?

South African uMleqwa and regular chicken have several differences, as highlighted below;

Hardbody chickenNormal chicken
They have a more natural and active lifestyle since they can roam and forage outdoors freelyThey live in commercially controlled and confined indoor spaces with limited mobility
Their diet is varied and consists of natural foods like insects, seeds, and vegetationThey are usually fed a formulated diet
They generally grow slower with more body fat and can live up to three yearsThey grow faster, with an average lifespan of six weeks
They have stronger muscles, resulting in tougher meat with a richer flavour and firmer textureThey have less developed muscle tissue and softer meat.

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How to cook hardbody chicken fast

African hardbody chicken recipes often involve slow cooking to ensure the meat is tender and falling off the bone. For fast cooking, you can do any of the following;

  • Cut the uMleqwa into smaller pieces, although cutting through the bone may not be as easy as broiler chicken.
  • You can marinate the meat in a mixture of olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, coriander, cumin, turmeric, paprika, salt and pepper, and ginger. The process helps break down tough muscle fibres, making the meat tender.
  • Using faster cooking methods like pressure cooking.
uMleqwa served
uMleqwa can be served with pap or roosterkoek. Photo: @exitangeni, @molotomothapo on X (modified by author)
Source: UGC

Hardbody chicken represents not only a delicious culinary tradition but also a connection to South Africa's rich cultural heritage. Enjoy the rich taste of Mzansi cuisine with properly cooked uMleqwa using the above recipe!

READ ALSO: Mac and cheese with mince: A family-friendly recipe

Briefly.co.za shared one of the best recipes for preparing a delicious and family-friendly mac and cheese with minced meat. The dish is a classic, nostalgic food that appeals to children and adults.

Incorporating mince in mac and cheese adds flavour and nutritional value. Check the article for more on preparing the dish at home.

Source: Briefly News

Alice Wabwile avatar

Alice Wabwile (Lifestyle writer) Alice Wabwile is a multifaceted content creator and Project Assistant at AfDAN, boasting over four years of experience. Holding a BCom degree from the University of Nairobi School of Business, she has cultivated a dynamic skill set through roles such as her tenure at Strathmore University's Data Science Department, where she contributed significantly to research. Recognized for her exceptional talent, she clinched the Writer of the Year Award. Beyond her professional endeavours, Alice is an engaged member of the Rotaract Club of Kabete. For inquiries, reach out to her at alicenjoro01@gmail.com

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