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How to cook bush tucker
Two bush tucker chefs share authentic, homegrown recipes from the great outdoors
In the world of a bush tucker chef, berries, bugs, grubs, kangaroos and crocodiles are standard ingredients. Bush walks and trips to the park (or specialist butcher) can take the place of supermarket outings.
These days the art of bush tucker is not restricted to the Aborigines, with contemporary Australian chefs also trying their hand at homegrown cuisine.
But the cuisine has a long history. Dale Chapman, an indigenous Australian, is renowned for her traditional recipes.
“We need to go back to our ancestral beginnings,” says Chapman. “About 11 years ago I started thinking, how do I get my people, indigenous people, to appreciate bush food, and that’s when I started The Dilly Bag, (which educates people about and sells bush tucker).
“I believe everyone in Australia should be having bush food –- a native mint, a lemon myrtle, a bit of kangaroo -- or something in their diet on a regular basis,” says Chapman. “Historically, this country is endemic to those species."
And then you have a new breed of bush tucker chef -– like Matt Clark –- who polishes it off with contemporary touches.
"More people need to realize that these ingredients are just as ‘normal’ as any other product and just need to be given the exposure that they deserve,” says Clark, who started Culinary Madness.
These two chefs are passionate about the benefits of local food. Here’s a six-course meal, mostly with ingredients that can be sourced from around the land.
Starter: witchetty grubs
Witchetty grubs have been a traditional staple in Aboriginal diets. Living 60 centimeters below the ground under black wattle trees and river red gum trees, feeding off bark, they can be found in most parks in Australia.
“It is said that 10 witchetty grubs are sufficient to provide the daily needs of an adult,” says Clark. “Grab the head and just bite off the rest raw.
"You will find the taste is quite pleasant, having a fried egg flavor with a hint of nuts and the skin resembles that of fried chicken."
Anyone who doesn't fancy a raw, fleshy, grub rolling around on their tongue could lightly sear it in a hot pan, or on a barbeque with some butter and garlic.
Entrée: lemon myrtle crusted crocodile
For those who aren’t interested in locking lips with this deadly, tropical creature, the location of a specialist butcher should be all the hunting information that’s required.
“It has a taste that’s quite similar to pork or chicken," says Clark. "It makes a great alternative to your garlic prawns or smoked salmon and is an outstanding light and fresh dish for the hot weather.”
“Compared to other meats, crocodile is very healthy, being low in fat, low in calories and high in protein.”
But ensure excess fat is removed during preparation. Roll the crocodile tail into the lemon myrtle so both sides are covered. Cut the tail in bite-sized medallions and grill each side in a hot pan.
“When cooking the tail fillet, it should be seared off quickly and treated like a prawn -- you do not want to overcook the meat as this will send it tough and dry,” says Clark.
Ingredients: 500 grams crocodile tail, two tablespoons of ground lemon myrtle
Serves two to four people
Fish Main: paperbark wrapped barramundi fillet and warm salad
White, soft paperbark trees are found in bush land and along the water and have been used by Aboriginals for thousands of years for various medicinal purposes. The bark is chewed for headaches. The tea tree oil is an antibacterial and antifungal.
Paperbark is a good garnishing mat and infuses the fish with a smoky flavor. Wrap four, evenly-sliced, salted barramundi fillets in the bark.
“Grill the wrapped fish either side to start the cooking process and then place into a pre-heated 180 C oven for 10 minutes -- you will need very little oil, if any, when grilling the fish,” Clark says.
“The fish will take on a very light smoky flavor which will be well matched with the fresh salad and be sure to tantalize every taste bud,” says Clark. “The fish can be served in the bark but should be peeled off before eating.”
The salad consists of roasting tomatoes for an hour, and red onions for 20 minutes at 160 C. Slice them in wedges, then add fresh mango –- sliced into slivers -- and some rocket, oil and salt.
Ingredients: one paperbark roll, one kilo of barramundi fillets, two red onions, four roma tomatoes, two mangoes, 30 milliliters olive oil, salt
Serves four people
Meat Main: char-grilled kangaroo steak served with char-grilled vegetables
The kangaroo, apart from being a much-loved creature, makes for an all-year round steak.
“There are kangaroo’s in every state,” says Chapman. “It’s a lean meat, it’s very nutritious, it’s low in fat and low in cholesterol.”
It’s a meat Chapman is personally passionate about.
“Kangaroo for me, it’s an animal that I can eat,” says Chapman. “My family are all emus (according to indigenous totems) so we can’t eat emu, but we’re allowed to eat kangaroo.”
She also believes Australians need to eat animals with padded feet -- not hooves. “They’re the animals that are actually breaking up our top soil and ruining our earth."
To prepare the kangaroo, rub each fillet in the native mint and then sprinkle it with salt and bush pepper. Cook it on a grill or barbecue to taste.
Slice up the sweet potato, zucchini, and eggplant and place each slice on a char-grill for two minutes per side.
Then mix honey, mustard and wattle seed to drizzle over the kangaroo and char-grilled vegetables.
Ingredients: 500 grams kangaroo fillets, salt, native mint, bush pepper, half sweet potato, one small zucchini, half eggplant, one tablespoon of honey, one tablespoon of mustard, five grams wattle seed
Serves two people
Dessert: apple and riberry crumble
Anyone with a garden in Sydney can grow a riberry tree. These unique, clove-tasting fruits are mostly found on Australia’s east coast and are well known for their high levels of anti-oxidants and cancer-fighting properties.
“The berry, due to its unique flavor, naturally pairs up well with apples in cooking,” says Clark. “The berries are also good just to eat on their own.”
Peel the apples and chop into small chunks. Place in a saucepan with sugar and water and cook for 30 minutes. Add the riberries at the last minute and stir in before placing the mixture into an oven dish.
The next step is making the crumble. Rub together flour and butter until it looks like breadcrumbs, then mix in sugar and oats. Pat the crumble over the apples and bake in oven for 25 minutes at 180 C.
“The addition of the riberries to this apple crumble is a true match made in heaven," says Clark. "They add an amazing clove-like flavor with a slight tartish hit. It really balances out the sweetness of the crumble and omits the need to add cloves to the apples,”
Ingredients: 12 apples, quarter cup sugar, one cup water, 100 grams lightly-crushed riberries, one cup flour, two tablespoons of butter, half cup of dark, brown sugar, half cup rolled oats
Tea: lemon myrtle tea
Lemon myrtle grows on the southeast coast of Queensland.
“You’ll find that these days there’s not a lot of lemon myrtle growing naturally," says Chapman. "It’s all plantations."
She recommends it as a calming after dinner drink.
“The tea is very simple. Grab a leaf, put it in a cup and pour hot water over it.”
Aside from its calming effect, lemon myrtle has many medicinal qualities. It is antibacterial, antifungal, it helps prevent cold and flus and speeds up metabolism.
Chapman warns not too drink too much: the high percentage of citral in lemon myrtle can cause drowsiness.
“It’s always good to have small amounts of bush food until our bodies get used to things and then we’re able to increase the dose,” says Chapman.