An invitation to Heston – explore Australia's new culinary frontier »
Using native Australian ingredients with The Outback Chef
By Robyn Lewis
I’ve read that you love Australia. I can also see you’re a busy man, commuting between Melbourne and Bray, lots on the go around the world. So here’s an invitation that I hope you’ll find exciting and fascinating, with some relaxation and fun along the way.
I’d like to offer some food travel suggestions for your next stay in Australia. Perhaps you might be interested in some more culinary ideas? Your diners want things the world has never seen before, and there’s a lot of pressure to stay ahead of the game, I’m sure.
So where can you find new inspiration, new flavour combinations? Not only do your creations have to blow the critics away, but they must be perfect every time, to delight everyone from royalty to cashed-up foodies, the most discerning culinary audience to have ever walked earth. So where’s the next wow?
I’m writing this from Tasmania. You were here in 2014 at the #RestaurantAustralia bash, wining and dining at MONA and sampling Australian food cooked by three of Australia’s best chefs. You downed oysters, barbecued seafood wrapped in paperbark, ate our cheeses and washed it all down with some of the best Australian wines.
Also on the menu that evening was South Australian red kangaroo with bunya nuts, and roasted wallaby tail broth. But there are so many other indigenous ingredients that perhaps you haven’t tried.
Had you been here earlier that day, at the ‘Produce Market’ at Hobart’s waterfront, you could have tasted Western Australian quandongs stuffed with Sandalwood Nut Ice Cream – standing out like glowing gemstones – and other more ‘out there’ creations utilising native foods that might have raised your pulse. But there’s still so much more!
For although Australia has adopted a multinational menu that’s almost everywhere now, we still have a few secret things in our dillybags, that few Australians even know about, yet. Tastes that might get you interested. Things worth travelling for, and with a little work from your experimental team might one day grace The Fat Duck menu.
There are foods here that have been eaten for 40,000 year by our Aborigines, but are only just being ‘discovered’. A bit like an Antipodean version of Nordic cuisine, minus the juniper and lichen.
Finger limes you’ve no doubt tried already, their busting vesicles of flavour zinging on your tongue. There are quite a few varieties and colours to have fun with, from green and yellow through to pink, red and black. Fabulous on oysters.
There are other Australian food plants that you already know, like the lemon myrtle from Queensland. I've read that you've developed a recipe for that in Slow Cooked Asian Pork. Sounds delicious! You can use the fruit, seeds and leaves; it’s excellent with seafood, and sooo much more interesting than bergamot. It’s also medicinal.
Even more exotic and with a stronger citrus flavour is the lemon aspen from the rainforests of Far North Queensland. Potential in spades, especially with prawns and other crustacea like Western Australia’s marrons, or mainland yabbies.
Tasmania may be yabbyless, but we have our own mountain pepperberry, collected from the wild and now being found in restaurants of the world. It’s in Paris menus on foie gras, Hong Kong on scallops, here on lamb, and now flavours premium gin. You've tried it in Beef Sausages and I read also with Slow Cooked Beef Ribs, but I’m sure in your capable hands this spice can heat up even more exciting things. It goes especially well with chocolate.
May I suggest on your next visit you pick up a copy of The Outback Chef by Jude Mayall? Forget the media release, which in my opinion doesn’t do this book justice – it’s so much more than “home style recipes that incorporate native ingredients”. It’s a genuine insight into these under-utilised ingredients by another innovative cook, who has come to Aboriginal culture via art and her farm upbringing in rural Victoria, and a great step in the evolution of what will one day become a genuine Australian cuisine.
Let’s take a look.
Firstly, Jude explains the background and inspiration for Aboriginal cooking and flavours, and the messages about our land that Aboriginal people bring to us via their art and ceremonies. It’s important to understand that many of our native plants have a special – almost sacred – status, being part of the long connection the Aborigines have with our continent.
Thus these plants are not simply resources to be exploited, but are to be treated with respect and gathered by or in conjunction with their Aboriginal guardians, who also possess the knowledge of how best to utilise them (it’s pleasing to read that many species are now being developed under a Fairtrade system with local communities).
These ingredients are also nutritious, and many have medicinal properties. Incorporating some – including anise myrtle, bush tomato, Davidson plum, muntries, quandong and more – would significantly contribute to the healthfulness of our modern diet. Many are extremely high in vitamins C, E and folate, and others are high in antioxidants.
There follow ten pages explaining the ‘key native food plants’, with scientific names, illustrations, Aboriginal uses and health benefits. Your not-so-inner scientist would be impressed, Heston.
But it’s the flavours that are really exciting! Jude has obviously spent an awful lot of time developing her recipes, no doubt with a lot of trial and error, a process with which you and your team will be very familiar. Her recipes commence with simple Starters, including the very easy Avocado and River Mint (related to the common mint and even found on the banks of the Yarra River); Stuffed Celery with Bush Dukkah, and Bushfood Muesli.
Moving on to the somewhat more adventurous come Mains: the Baby Snapper Cooked in Paperbark which beautifully illustrates the book’s cover also contains lemon myrtle and pepperberry, a delicious combo.
Desert limes flavour Chicken and Shiitake Mushroom Patties. Kangaroo Lasagne is made even more Australian with bush tomatoes and wattleseed, and Lamb Koftas become truly Aussie with added ground saltbush, pepperberry and anise myrtle (many of the leaves can be bought in dried and powdered form, or you can collect or buy whole and grind your own). Personally I'm not a bush tomato fan, as they can be bitter, but there are plenty other Australian flavours that are not.
The Orange Chicken with Quandongs and Tarragon served with Coconut Rice with Lemon Myrtle are a winner in the Mayall household. OK, you can’t serve these dishes at The Fat Duck, but there are enough new flavour combos here to get a creative chef like you pushing the boundaries further.
And so on through Sides (Orange and Anise Myrtle Salad; Qandong Couscous) to Sweets (more quandong dishes – these are versatile fruit) and even ANZAC Biscuits with Wattleseed. There’s a confection named Davo’s Delight, made with Davidson plums; Lemon and Pepperberry Gelati and other sweet treats like Pavlova with Wild Berries – Jude Mayall’s years as a confectioner (trained at the Confectionary Academie in Salingen, Germany) shine through, and they are all easily achievable for home cooks, even if they are not quite to your Heston Blumenthal At Home standard.
But it’s the section called Recipes from Around the Country that I think might get you most excited, Heston. Buckle up for a culinary tour, to every state. The recipes are contributed by various Australian chefs, and I’m just itching to get the sous vide equipment and blowtorch onto some of these creations.
The first comes from Altair Restaurant in Victoria’s Warrandyte, named after the star upon which Bunjil, the indigenous creator of the world, resides, near where he created the mouth of the Yarra River. Their Caramelised White Chocolate Crème Brûlée with Lemon Myrtle and Davidson Plum Sorbet (which also contains saltbush and pepper) is a winner, as is the Slow-cooked Lamb Belly with Parsnip Purée, Riberry, Liquorice, Muntries and Wild Olives.
Also from Victoria are Rhyll Trout and Bushtucker Farm’s easy Warrigal Greens and Feta Quiche, the delicious-looking Lemon Myrtle Tart, and Sorella Food’s Lemon Aspen Prawns, and Chocolate and Pepperberry Tart.
I’d love to introduce you to my old friend Chris Read and his team at Diemen Pepper, who provide a host of suggestions for enjoying Tasmanian mountain pepperberries (leaves as well as berries). A really simple but delicious dish is their Crispy Skin Oven-baked Ocean Trout with Mountain Pepperberry Rub – I’ve tried this sous-vide and it’s simply stunning. No doubt Heston you can find even more exciting things to do with pepperberries, not to mention Tasmania’s delicious ocean trout and lamb, especially our flavoursome Southdown, which I gather has now almost vanished in Britain.
IndigiScapes in South East Queensland – 2013 winners of an Excellence in Food Tourism Award for their Bushtucker Experiences concept – contribute Lemon Myrtle Macadamia Shortbread and a humble scone flavoured with Strawberry Gum (Eucalyptus olida, found in northern NSW) which is also used in perfumery, reminiscent of passionfruit and strawberries. I’m thinking this might make a great infusion...
Also from Queensland’s Bushfood Association is the “totally delicious” Saltbush Ice Cream by Sheryl Backhouse – if this isn't something you should try, Heston, I don’t know what is.
Feel like a trip to the Northern Territory? Head to Darwin to try Crocodile Terrine from Keiran Mether at the famous Mindil Beach Sunset Markets, then to Alice Springs for Quandong Bushtucker Fruit Cake from Kungas Can Cook.
Back in Victoria check out Lemon Myrtle Poached Chicken Breast Salad with Bush Tomato Dressing from the Paperbark Café at Kuranga Native Nursery in Mt Evelyn, just east of Melbourne.
While you’re there, for drinks there’s a killer Strawberry Gum Gin and a Tom Collins made with lemon myrtle from the Maidenii label (named after a British botanist, Joseph Maiden, the original champion of the eucalyptus and acacia), where former French winemaker Gilles Lapalus and Melbourne’s (in)famous Gin Palace’s cocktail geek Shaun Bryne also make three vermouths using native ingredients, available almost all over the country. See you for a taste test at Gin Palace soon?
Or for something non-alcoholic, there’s a party punch with lemon myrtle, made by Jan Sked also from the Queensland Bushfood Association.
It sounds like a trip to Mimosa Winery and Drystone Restaurant near Bermagui in southern NSW should also be in the menu; they contribute an easy Lemon Myrtle Panna Cotta to The Outback Chef, which really shows how easy it could be for more Australian chefs to put native ingredients onto our menus and to wow our international visitors with something different to the food they can so easily get at home. Their Rack of Lamb with Native Spices Served on Anise Myrtle Risotto Cake will be happening at my place very soon.
Which brings me to Andrew Fielke. He’s an Adelaide-based chef of nearly 40 years’ international experience, founder of Red Ochre restaurants, and now Creative Native Foods Service Business (which plans to expand interstate in 2015) , plus a retail range called Tuckeroo. These include “a superb collection of spice blends, sauces and dressings, crackers and delicious antipasti and dips”. He’s also hosted wine and food segments on the ABC, and recently filmed a series Desert Kitchen in the remote Western Deserts of Western Australia.
He sounds like another person you should meet – he’s also the Chair of ANFIL, (Australian Native Food Industries Ltd), the ‘peak body’ for native foods in Australia. Author Jude Mayall is on their Board of Directors. His recipes for Braised Wallaby Shanks with Olives and Bush Tomato, and Carpaccio of Kingfish with Finger Lime ‘Caviar’ look divine.
If you’re here for AusMas, Heston (Christmas in June/July) the Aged Goose by Clinton McIvor that wraps up The Outback Chef sounds a worthy banquet, cooked with Davidson plum purée, Tasmanian pepperberries, wild rosellas, freeze-dried bilberries and Murray River Salt. Imagine the Australian wines that could match with that!
So please don’t be put off by the title, this book is not about roughing it in the Simpson Desert and cooking damper round the campfire, fun though that might be for a night or two. Instead it’s a big step in the right direction of exploring the flavours that are here right under our noses, and our Aboriginal inhabitants’ uses of them for 40,000 years.
I tried possum recently, and I have to say it was far better than I anticipated. Whilst not commercially available as far as I know, it certainly has potential, especially in areas where considered a pest (including New Zealand). It's not in The Outback Chef, nor are various indigenous plant species like madacamia and Australian samphire that I suspect our Aboriginal inhabitants also enjoyed – the focus is more on flavourings.
Perhaps after your tour to the sources, Heston, you might let your experimental team loose onto more Australian taste sensations? Who knows what new dishes await, to delight your audience. I’m hoping to see some make it to The Fat Duck's menu soon.
Here's to more Australian culinary successes,
Best – Robyn Lewis
The Outback Chef by Jude Mayall is published by New Holland (Sydney, 2014; hc, 176 pp) and retails in Australia for A$35.
Scroll down for some recipes from The Ourback Chef, courtesy of New Holland Publishers.
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