Thursday, December 22, 2011

Recipes from Australia

This week we're traveling to the land of huge spiders and deadly snakes. Thank god we're only going there figuratively. Don't get me wrong, I would actually like to visit Australia one day, but I think I'll wear a hazmat suit when I do.

Australia is probably not a huge mystery to anyone reading this blog, but I'll give you a little background anyway. It is the world's sixth largest country by land area, the world's 13th largest economy and it ranks second on the global human development index, which means that Australian citizens enjoy an advanced healthcare system, a good education system and a very good overall quality of life. Except for the spiders and deadly snakes of course. Here is Australia on a map, although unless you flunked geography I'd be really surprised if you didn't already know where it was:

Because Australia was settled primarily by the British, mainstream Australian food is heavily influenced by British cuisine, though there has been something of a revived interest in "bush tucker," that is, foods that are native to Australia (many of which were used as traditional food sources by indigenous Australian people).

Sadly, though, bush tucker isn't really available worldwide, even on gourmet websites, so I quickly ruled this out as something I could do practically for my Australian meal. I did, however, have a card to play that I haven't had in any prior weeks: I was able to ask, you know, an actual Australian. I figured my friend Heath, who was born and raised there, could probably at least point me in the right direction.

Heath came back with a dessert recommendation pretty quickly, but when I asked him if he had any main course ideas, he reconfirmed what I'd already read: that most of what Australians eat could pass for European or American food, with the exception of maybe one meat: kangaroo.

Kangaroo burgers with tomato chutney and chips.

Now I admit, as soon as he said this my first reaction was, "Yeah right, like I could find kangaroo in Grass Valley, CA." But then I got to thinking about it and wondered if I could maybe track some down in Sacramento, which is about an hour and a half drive. I'm down there a couple of times a month anyway, so it wouldn't be that big a deal to sidetrack a bit to pick up something that would really make this meal experience an authentic one. So I did a quick search on the internet and within about five minutes came up with a source that claimed they could special-order kangaroo, among other things (like alligator, caribou, wild boar and rattlesnake). So I called them, and they had it in their store in less than five days. Just in case you're in the greater Sacramento area and would like to order some kangaroo (or alligator, caribou, wild boar etc.), the store is called "Corti Brothers," and you can call them at (916) 736-3800.

Now, before you say, "Oh my God, kangaroos are so cute, how could you eat one??" Please keep in mind the following two facts:

1. Kangaroos are assholes. If you don't believe me, watch this video.

2. Kangaroo is an environmentally friendly meat. Kangaroos are killed by hunters under a government quota system, which means that wild kangaroo meat has very little environmental impact apart from what kangaroos naturally do to their environment. Even farmed kangaroo meat is more environmentally friendly than traditional meats such as beef, since kangaroos need less feed, don't destroy the root systems of pasture grasses and are adapted to dry and drought conditions.

So with all of my justifications in place, I decided on this recipe: 

Kangaroo Burgers 
  • 1 lb miced kangaroo meat
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 tbsp cilantro, chopped
  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 4 large lettuce leaves (I used butter lettuce)
  • 4 burger buns (recipe follows)

Now kangaroo, I was warned, is a very strong flavored meat, so it needs to be paired with other strong flavors so it doesn't become overwhelming. Instead of ketchup, I decided to use an Australian condiment called "bush tomato chutney." Here is the recipe:

"Bush" Tomato Chutney
  • 3 tomatoes
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup dried bush tomatoes, chopped (or substitute sundried tomatoes)
  • 1 red onion, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1/2 a granny smith apple
  • 2 tbsp golden raisins
  • White vinegar (enough to cover)
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp chili powder

I also baked my own hamburger buns. I found a few Australian burger recipes that called for brioche buns, so I tracked down this recipe (posted by an Australian blogger):

Light Brioche Burger Buns
(from Smitten Kitchen)
  •  3 tbsp warm milk
  • 2 tsp active dry yeast
  • 2 1/2 tbsp sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 3 cups bread flour
  • 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 1/2 tbsp unsalted butter, softened
  • Sesame seeds (optional)

And of course, what burger is complete without chips? Here's an Australian chip recipe, which is really no different from any American French fry recipe I've ever seen:

Aussie Chips
(from Altius Directory)
  • 6 medium sized red potatoes (the Australian recipe called for Désirée potatoes)
  • 3 cups vegetable oil
  • Sea salt to taste

And finally, the dessert recipe Heath suggested:

(from Aussie Info)
  • 4 large egg whites
  • pinch of salt
  • 8 oz baking sugar (super fine, but not powdered)
  • 1 tsp white vinegar
  • 1 tsp vanilla essence, divided
  • 2 tsp cornstarch
  • 3/4 cup heavy cream
  • 2 tbsp baking sugar
  • 1 lb strawberries, quartered

That's a lot more recipes than I usually do, but hey, how often does a person get to eat kangaroo? I wanted to do it justice.

So the very first thing I did (the day before meal day) was make the tomato chutney. I love making chutney (I've made mango chutney a few times) and this was my first attempt at doing one with tomatoes, which are technically fruits but don't really make a particularly fruity chutney.

Now I am pretty sure that kangaroo counts as "bush tucker," but one thing I didn't actually notice when I imported this tomato chutney recipe into my recipe book was the presence of another bush tucker ingredient, "bush tomatoes," which though closely related to the tomato are actually a kind of wild berry that grows in the arid parts of Australia. By the time I noticed this ingredient in the recipe, though, I'd already started making it. Yes I know, "bush tomato chutney," bush tomatoes, duh. I just thought it was an Aussie name for an Aussie recipe. In my defense, I would have had a pretty hard time finding bush tomatoes even if I'd known about this in advance, because as I said earlier, even online gourmet shops haven't yet come around to the idea of bush tucker.

Fortunately, I quickly found a source that suggested substituting sun dried tomatoes, which have a similar flavor, so I called that good enough since I had some sun dried tomatoes on hand. Of course, mine had a long gone best-by date which I won't even repeat here, but I figured some heat ought to bring them back to life. I hoped.

Sundried tomatoes. No, they are not supposed to be that color.

So other than the presence of this impossible-to-locate ingredient, this recipe is actually blissfully simple. First cut up the tomatoes, garlic and onions and put them in a medium sized saucepan. Add just enough vinegar to cover them.

Cover the tomatoes, onion and garlic with white vinegar.

Now add the rest of the ingredients and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until the vegetables are soft and the entire mixture has a jam-like consistency.

Here's the chutney after about an hour on the stove.

This recipe makes about a jar of chutney, which is way more than you would need for the burgers. I put mine in a sterilized Ball jar, but I don't know anything about canning so I plan to use it up in about a week. Unless you know what you're doing, please don't try canning this recipe for the long haul (botulism, need I say more?)

The next thing I did was make the brioche buns. This recipe was a little weird because it made a super-sticky dough that was really difficult to work with. Part of this, of course, was because I missed the part that said I was only supposed to put one of the eggs in the dough. (I later discovered that the other egg was just supposed to be used to brown the buns while in the oven).

So this is not a bread machine recipe, but I made it in my bread machine because there's no way I'm ever going to be caught kneading dough. If you want the old-fashioned instructions I'm going to point you to the original recipe, because they are pretty long and this post is already longer than usual.

Before getting my bread machine involved I do prove the yeast like so:

In a glass bowl, combine the water, milk, yeast and sugar. Let it stand until frothy.

Frothy yeast is ready to be added to the bread machine.

Mix together the dry ingredients and put them in your bread machine, then add the milk/yeast mixture. Now beat one of the eggs (just one!) and add that. Set your machine to the dough setting and let it do all the hard stuff for you. Note: don't forget to put the paddle in the machine. I know, who would be stupid enough to do that? (whistling and looking around innocently)

Here is the dough after rising.

After the dough has risen in your machine turn it out onto a well-floured surface, (and I do mean well-floured). Divide it up into eight equal sized balls. This will be difficult because even with just one egg this dough is really sticky. I mainly just approximated balls, trying to make a few that were the right size for my kids. After rising I ended up with two enormous buns and a whole bunch of regular-sized ones, so I very much overestimated the size of the balls.

This is about as close as I could come to making balls.

Put the dough balls on baking sheets lined with wax paper and let them rise for another hour or so. When they're big enough, mix the second egg with a little bit of water and brush the tops of the buns, then sprinkle with sesame seeds.

After rising, the buns are painted with an egg wash.

Bake for 15 to 20 minutes at 400 degrees, turning the pan once to make sure they bake evenly.

Mine came out huge but flat, which might have had something to do with that extra egg. They still tasted good and made great burger buns.

Finished brioche buns. Mine were a little flat.

So I did both the chutney and the buns a day in advance. The next day at around lunchtime I started on the pavlova.

Just a quick note on pavlova, though served all over Australia there is evidently some controversy about which country actually owns this dessert. The main contender against Australia is, of course, New Zealand. Because you know, Australians and New Zealanders always have to fight about something. The only thing that can really be agreed about is that pavlova was invented in honor of the ballet dancer Anna Pavlova.

Pavlova is basically a meringue filled with whipped cream and topped with fruit (strawberries are popular). If you've never made a meringue, don't worry, it's not as scary as it sounds.

Start by beating the egg whites with the salt until they form stiff peaks. Then gradually add the sugar, vinegar and half a teaspoon of the vanilla. If your meringue comes out like mine did, it should be thick and creamy with a lot of volume, but not necessarily fluffy. Since I've never made a true meringue like this one, I don't know if this is really how it is supposed to look, but based on my results I'd guess I probably came close.

This is my meringue after adding the sugar, vanilla and vinegar.

Now spread the mixture into a lightly-greased pie plate, leaving a hollow in the center for the filling (which you will add after baking). I interpreted this to mean I should make a ring out of the meringue with an actual hole in the center, and it wasn't until I'd baked the danged thing that it dawned on me that "hollow" probably meant and indentation in the center (as opposed to a hole). This would obviously make for easier slicing.

Spread it into the pan, but don't leave a hole (just a hollow).

Baking times differ for this recipe depending on the kind of oven you have. The important thing to remember is that you have to start off with a 400 degree oven whether you have gas or electric. If your stove is electric, you preheat to 400, put the meringue in the oven and immediately reduce the temperature to 250 degrees. Bake for 1 1/2 hours, making sure not to disturb the pan.

If you have a gas oven like mine, put the meringue in and bake at 400 degrees for 10 minutes, then reduce the heat to 250 and bake for another hour.

Turn the oven off, but don't take the meringue out until it is cool. Leave it alone.

The meringue should be crispy and light brown in color.

Just before you are ready to serve, whip the cream until stiff peaks form, then add the sugar and vanilla extract. Spread the whipped cream into the hollow at the center of the meringue, then top with strawberries (or use whatever fruit is in season. Strawberries are most definitely not in season around here, and the ones I had were kind of blah).

Here's the finished pavlova. Mine had cracks (oh well).

OK, now for the main event: the kangaroo.

Just in case you thought I wasn't serious ...

The first thing I noticed about kangaroo is the color (a very deep red) and the total absence of fat. I don't think I've ever seen a piece of red meat that lean. The second thing I noticed was the blood. This was by far the bloodiest piece of meat I've ever worked with.

Kangaroo is a really dark read meat with almost no fat.

Because the meat came as a steak, I had to grind it myself. I don't own a meat grinder but I figured my little mini food processor would do the trick, and it did. But I ended up with some really wet ground meat, presumably because of all that blood.

After grinding, the meat looks a little pinker.

Kangaroo, as I said, is a very flavorful meat so it needs to be prepared with other flavorful things. This recipe called for finely chopped onion, garlic and cilantro, which basically just needs to be mixed into the meat with a little salt and pepper.

Mix the meat with onions, garlic and cilantro.

Now if your kangaroo meat is as bloody as mine was, you'll end up with a really wet patty that won't really cook well on a BBQ, because it will ooze between the grill wires instead of sitting on top of them, then it will fall apart when you try to flip it. Trust me because this is what I tried to do, even though I suspected I wasn't going to have great results. I guess this might be why most of the kangaroo burger recipes I've seen call for cooking on a grill pan instead of on an outdoor grill. Anyway, I did get a little charcoal flavor into mine before I had to rescue them (in bits and pieces) and take them inside to finish cooking in a pan. Fortunately they were burgers, so they could be reassembled and then hidden in a burger bun, and none's the wiser.

Mine fell apart on the grill, so I finished them in a pan.

Note: don't cook your kangaroo (or any other game meat for that matter) to more than medium rare. It will become tough and unpleasant.

Finished kangaroo burgers. Crazy, huh?

On to my final recipe: the chips. A couple of quick notes: this recipe really isn't particularly Australian, as chip recipes go, though I did try to find some potato varieties you would expect to find in Australia. Sadly, you can't get any of those varieties over here, unless you really want to drop 45 bucks plus shipping on a 10 pound bag of "heirloom potatoes." The recipe I used called for Désirée potatoes, which are a red skinned variety. So I had settle for your common, garden variety American red skinned potato, which I guess was a reasonable substitute. Anyway, I've never actually deep fried fries before, so this was a totally new experience for me. Here's how it's done:

Slice your potatoes. It's important to make sure they are uniform thickness so they will cook at the same speed. If you do this in advance, you can stop them getting brown by submerging them in ice water until they are ready for frying.

Make sure your chips are cut to a uniform size.

Now heat the oil. You can tell when your oil is hot enough by sticking the non-stirring end of a wooden spoon into it. If bubbles rise up the wood, the oil is ready.

Pat the potato slices with a paper towel to soak up some of the excess moisture, then dump them in the oil. Be sure to stir them around for a couple of minutes or they will stick to each other and they won't cook correctly.

Deep frying the chips.

When the fries are a golden brown, take them out. Using another paper towel, remove some of the excess oil and add the sea salt.

Take the chips out when they are golden brown.

So even though Martin came home early to help with the barbecue, since I am barbecue-incapable, I somehow managed to get through the entire burger-cooking process without letting on to anyone what kind of meat I was preparing, which was quite funny really since the patties did look pretty strange. I served the burgers on the very flat brioche buns with a generous portion of tomato chutney and a whole leaf of butter lettuce. Martin took a big bite of his and exclaimed, "Wow, these are good!"

"Really?" I said. "You're eating kangaroo."

Nothing really shocks Martin (he's English) but he was definitely intrigued ... after he got over a brief moment of feeling sorry for the kangaroo (personally I think cows are way more deserving of our pity). He ate his burger faster than anyone, then he ate pretty much all of Hailey's, who I don't have to tell you took a tiny little nibble and exclaimed "thank you but I don't like it." Surprisingly, though,the other three kids each finished off their burgers. Surprising because all the stuff I read in advance about kangaroo was pretty much the truth: it's a very strong meat with a gamey flavor. The very strong-flavored tomato chutney really was the best condiment I could have chosen.

The fries were kind of overshadowed by the strange entree, but I thought they were really tasty and totally worth the trouble. The pavlova was a huge hit with everyone--light and crispy on the outside and creamy inside (I don't know if that's how it's supposed to turn out, but between the six of us we managed to put away the entire pan, so I must have done something right).

Overall this had to be one of my favorite Travel by Stove meals, both in the pursuit of ingredients, the challenging preparation and the taste. Plus I still have two kangaroo steaks in my freezer for another time.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays everyone!! Next week: Austria.


  1. So funny that Kangaroo meat was your choice. Way back in 1988 I went to Australia and at the Hungry Jacks (aka Burger King but since they honor the King and Queen of England they changed the name) They actually had kangaroo burgers instead of beef. And altho I am not usually one for "gamey meats" I wasnt offended by its flavor. Now, we also went to a place called the Wool Shed for an evening of Dinner and dancing. There we learned all about the lamb and how it was a major meat source.... so if you are ever so inclined to "travel by stove back to Australia" you can cook lamb too! (So much easier to find at the local markets here.) It was sun to travel back there with you even if just thru the blog, brought back many good memories! <3 Shelley

  2. Wow, I had the idea from Heath that even in Australia kangaroo isn't widely eaten. I wonder if it was just something they were trying out or if you can still get kangaroo burgers there? It is really gamey so I can't imagine eating it in a fast food burger ( I thought it really needed to chutney).

    I did consider a lamb recipe or two but Martin really isn't a huge fan of lamb, so I try not to torture him with it too much. Thanks for reading Shelley!!

  3. It's unusual to see kangaroo on a menu, but not completely strange. I'd equate it to something like venison here in the US. I've eaten it in a few restaurants and seen it in butcher shops sometimes, but I'm really surprised to hear about Hungry Jacks serving kangaroo. Must have been some kind of special promotion or something, they definitely usually serve beef.

    Sounds like your pav came our perfectly! You're right about the dip versus the ring though: you want to have the base under the whole thing. Glad I could provide some inspiration for this, the meal sounds great and your blog is awesome!

  4. This is a wonderful post! Thanks for sharing your knowledge with us! I hope to read more of your post which is very informative and useful to all the readers. I salute writers like you for doing a great job! Budget Hotel St Kilda

  5. BHSK: Thanks so much for the kind words! Australia was one of my favorite entries, it was a great challenge.

  6. Now mate if you are going to make a "fair dinkum" OZ hamburger, you need to add to your [toasted and buttered] buns:

    1. Sliced up lettuce
    2. Sliced tomato
    3. Sliced beetroot [canned is cool]
    4. Tomato sauce [not ketchup]

    Grilled, bacon, egg and pineapple are optional extras.

    Ian C. Purdie - Sydney, Australia

  7. Actually that was exactly what I was going to do before I found the kangaroo burger recipe. Once I settled on the kangaroo idea, though, I didn't really want to deviate from the recipe as written (and it was from an Australian source) by adding anything to it. I would like to try an Aussie style beef burger with a fried egg and beets, though, sounds intriguing!

  8. Hi, Just found your blog (via, and really enjoying reading 'the story so far'. Re. the Pavlova, I make this quite often and yours looked fine to me! Mine quite often cracks, but leaving it in the oven until completely cold limits the damage. Nigella Lawson in 'How to Eat' passes on the tip to turn the meringue base over before piling on the cream and fruit (cue remarks about appropriateness for this Antipodean dish!). Two benefits: if it's cracked it doesn't show so much, and the original top stays crispier, while the cream mingles with the marshmallowy bottom. I reckon it makes a good thing even better.
    All the best with your culinary journey, Lyn

  9. Hi Lyn, thanks! I'm glad to hear that I got the pavlova right ... it was certainly tasty even though it did look a bit odd. Next time I'll try flipping it over though that does sound a bit tricky!

  10. Hi Becki, forgot to say that of course you're right, you make a dip in the middle of the meringue circle, not a hole! I put ungreased baking paper (what I call greaseproof paper, 'cos I'm a Brit) on a flat pizza pan, and cook the meringue on that. Even if it cracks, I've not had trouble turning it, so don't worry!

  11. Ah, the great Australian dessert that's actually from New Zealand. It was named after the famous ballet dancer Anna Pavlova after one of her tours here. Its creation has been a war waged between Australia and NZ for years that has yet to abate. It was thought to have originated in Australia in 1935 till earlier version penned in 1926 was found and thus, for now New Zealand is the grand creator of the cake. (Although, who really cares when we can just eat it and delight in sweet sweet goodness)

  12. Ah, yes, the debate between New Zealanders and Australians is particularly vicious over this and I've received more than a few messages from folks on both sides claiming that their country is the true originator of pavlova.

    I do want to point out that my goal is not to nail down the precise origins of any recipe I use but only to cook recipes that are traditional parts of the cuisine. Note that a recipe that comes from somewhere else can and often does become "traditional" in its non-native country. I did a bao for American Samoa, for example, which is a dish that originated in China and has been adopted by the Samoans. So the argument about the origins of pavlova is actually irrelevant here because it's not my goal to verify the origins of every recipe I use--I don't have that kind of time, and for very old recipes it would be next to impossible, anyway. My only goal is to cook food that one might eat when visiting a restaurant or someone's home in any given country, and I'm fairly sure you can find pavlova on the menu all over Australia.

    Hopefully that will help tame some of the outrage. :)


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