Inveterate traveller, Jacqui Sinnatt, On Food In Australia
As an antidote to an excess of seasonal cheer this month’s guru spot is taking us to the beginning of summer ‘Down Under’. Tasting kangaroo and crocodile instead of turkey and goose, and offering up wines made from exotic tropical fruits, designer Jacqui Sinnatt has just returned from Australia with tales to tell of festive foods from the land of Oz:
She starts by recalling Ogden Nash’s delightful limerick (from Carnival of the Animals) describing the incredible ability of the kangaroo for jumping as owing to the fact that he is edible and pointing out that the Australian cookbook-reading and boomerang-owning public prefer to eat the kangaroo in kangaroomeringues:
Australia has built an international reputation for its Pacific Rim cuisine and the quality of the country’s ingredients. My latest visit included a tasting menu at Harrisons in Port Douglas, Northern Queensland that rivalled anything I have eaten this year. But it was the local ingredients that aren’t generally available in Europe which really interested me.
First stop was a tasting plate of six burgers: yes – kangaroo, but also crocodile, , emu, buffalo, wild boar and camel (who knew Australia had camels?). They tasted like chicken, beef, beef, beef, pork, beef – in that order. Served with breadfruit chips. All drenched in powerful BBQ sauces which rather hid the subtler nuances of one meat from the other.
Second stop was ‘Mocka’s Pies’ in Port Douglas. This famous pie shop offered a range of award winning meat and fruit pies. I sampled a crocodile laska and the kangaroo in red wine. The crocodile filling was similar to Thai chicken, the kangaroo more like a beef stew. Absolutely delicious if a meaty steak pie rocks your boat when it is 32 degrees and 68% humidity outside.
I decided to move upmarket for a final kangaroo experience and tried ‘fine dining’ at Silk’s Brasserie in Leura in the Blue Mountains. I was with my husband on this occasion and we sampled a kangaroo steak with a red wine jus, served rare. Beautifully presented, very flavourful – similar to venison – and perfectly cooked…. but chewy. You have to commit to this meat. There is a good reason why kangaroo hasn’t taken off across the globe – and it isn’t a shortage of kangaroos.
Having been slightly underwhelmed by the regional meats we moved onto the Shannonvale Tropical Fruit Winery in the Daintree Rainforest . Tony and Trudie Woodall are passionate about their tropical fruit wines and are convinced they have a range of wines to compete with those made from traditional grapes. They promised they weren’t sweet and sticky and had comparative depth and nuance to conventional wines. We were skeptical to say the least, but happily took on the full wine tasting experience. Amazingly in many cases they were right.
The mango had a light, soft, style, similar to a Chardonnay, a very acceptable drink with fish and chicken. The passion fruit was dry and more acidic, along the lines of a New Zealand (sorry Aussies!) Sauvignon Blanc. The ginger wine (nothing like Stone’s Ginger Wine) was a sweeter style, but they recommend it with Chinese food and I can see that they would go well together. We were less convinced by the Jaboticaba red. Tony explained that our taste buds would react to the taste of the tannins in the first mouthful, so you should wait 25 seconds for the brain to adjust and the saliva to get going so the second gulp would be more palatable. We found even after a third try we were struggling – it reminded me of very cheap French wines back in the 1980s, so not a winner.
The two we liked best (and purchased) were the Lime wine – but very much as a refreshing dry, alcoholic lime-cordial-type aperitif, not as a wine-alike – and the Award Winning Black Sapote port. The Shannonvale Winery describe the port on their website as follows:
“Once fermented the (Black Sapote) port develops flavours of chocolate, liquorice, dates, prunes, sarsaparilla, golden syrup, aniseed, raisins, figs, vanilla, caramel, cinnamon, christmas pudding and others. Don’t believe me? Try it for yourself. We challenge anyone to make a more complex single-fruit port. A port lovers port. So said the grape wine judges.”
– and we agreed! Delicious. A perfect addition to round off an English Christmas dinner.
We discovered a whole orchard-full of new fruits while we were in Queensland. We stayed at the Rainforest Hideway in the Daintree Rainforest and also visited the Daintree Ice Cream Company. The fresh fruits we were offered for breakfast included Black Sapote, Soursop, Achacha, Jaboticaba and Papaya. The Black Sapote is known as the Chocolate Pudding fruit. It is very black, very dense, cloying and sweet. I didn’t love it as a fruit but it was spectacular as an ice cream – rich, chocolately and delicious. Sour sop had a refreshing, tangy citrus taste and the Wattleseed ice cream had a creamy vanilla taste.
While the fruits were available from local farms they don’t appear in the supermarkets and seem very localised. But I am sure it is only a matter of time before Waitrose are offering bread fruit chips and achacha sorbets.
Summary of Australian foods
Kangaroo meat is very low in fat which makes it very healthy but prone to drying out during cooking. Marinate it as long as you can before cooking. Fry over a high heat, and quickly turn to ensure all sides are seared. Best cooked rare to medium – if you cook it too long it becomes tough. Good with a gin and redcurrant sauce.
Emu is very healthy, fat free – but there is a price to pay, it’s tough as old boots. The only thing to do with it is to cook it slowly in stews or buy it smoked and serve it cold.
A little like chicken, perhaps more like chunky frog, or maybe monkfish, crocodile is sort of half way between a meat and a fish, and it tastes surprisingly good, although it doesn’t have a very strong taste. It should be marinated or it can become dry. Cook it in burgers or as a steak.
Most cuts of camel are very lean and steak cuts need to be cooked on a very hot surface to sear the meat and keep the juices in.
A species of slipper lobster that lives in the shallow waters around Australia, often named after the place where it’s caught– I had Moreton Bay Bugs. The only edible meat is in its tail. But like a lobster, the fleshy meat and lovely taste is worth the messy eating.
Perhaps the most Australian of all fish varieties, barramundi is an aboriginal word meaning “large-scaled river fish.”
It’s best pan-fried or seared skin-side first (rarely battered or deep fried), delicious with a herb oil.
Black sapote, aka chocolate pudding fruit
The fruit flesh is rich, dark brown coloured and custard like and is therefore called the chocolate pudding fruit. When ripe it can be a rather offputting brown colour.
The flesh is rich and custard-like, with a sweetish nutty flavour. The ripe fruit pulp can be blended with milk, cream or ice-cream to produce a mild chocolate taste – but it’s not fattening. And it makes an incredible port – see above.
Looked at from the outside, it looks like a mix between a hedgehog and an avocado, but it is in fact a member of the custard apple family.
Has a strong tangy flavour and works well at the end of a meal.
Make a nosegay of the leaves (which have a sedative effect) and leave it under your pillow for a good night’s sleep.
It tastes like a mix of strawberry and pineapple, but with the creaminess of coconut or banana.
Cut it in half and serve it, chilled, in its skin, or scoop out the pulp and seeds and add to champagne. Filter out the seeds and make a sorbet, or a sauce for seafood.
Looks like generous-sized black berries. Eat it as it is, or make it into jellies, jams and wine.