Food: Gourmet in the outback
What makes Australia different from other countries when cooking in the outback?
The unique thing about cooking in the outback is the wood. Desert timber is dense, burns slowly and generates great heat. Each timber shows different characteristics. I like to let a mulga fire burn down overnight, and then bake damper in the ashes, but I like to use desert oak and gidgee for barbecuing and grilling.
What’s your favourite ingredient that naturally occurs in Australia and what do you do with it?
My favourite ingredient that naturally occurs in Australia is the fruit of the Quandong, which is a member of the sandalwood family. The bright orange fruit grows around a large woody kernel and is sweet and sharp in flavour. It’s popular in tarts and as a jam, but I reckon it pairs wonderfully with game as a sauce or jus.
Describe the best setting you’ve ever prepared a meal?
It was about 15 years ago in the Gibson Desert. We were camped on some high ground near the Bedford Range. No tracks led to this place, there was golden spinifex as far as the eye could see, it was really vast, and as the sun set on the range, I served kangaroo with a quandong chilli glaze. Gradually the shadow of the earth turned deep purple and the stars appeared. There was not a breath of wind or a sound. It was sublime.
Can you recommend the quintessential Aussie outback restaurant, for travellers within Australia?
You’d be hard pressed to find a better burger than an Oodnaburger at the Pink Roadhouse in Oodnadatta, a traditional burger served on an oval plate with pineapple, beetroot, bacon, egg – all the trimmings. For posh nosh I love the “feral food” at the Prairie Hotel at Parachilna in the Flinders Ranges. But the best restaurant in my mind is wherever the Diamantina Touring Company campfire is in the desert at any given time, with one of my team at the helm in the kitchen!
RECIPE: Kangaroo with quandong chilli glaze
While this dish uses quintessential Australian ingredients, you may substitute others, such as venison for the kangaroo, and dried apricots instead of quandongs. You can use fresh, frozen or reconstituted dried quandongs (which are best reconstituted in port or orange juice). If you don’t have a quandong tree in your backyard, you can buy them from bush tucker suppliers. Kuzu, or kudzu, is a Japanese thickening agent that can be purchased from Asian stores. You can substitute cornflour or arrowroot, but kuzu does yield a superior result.
2 saddles of kangaroo
3 tablespoons olive oil
4 cloves garlic, chopped
Chillies to taste, julienned
1 cup quandongs, thinly sliced
250ml veal or beef stock
2 teaspoons palm sugar
2 teaspoons kuzu
½ cup (4 fl oz) cold water
Salt to taste
Coat the kangaroo saddles in olive oil and leave to stand for a few minutes.
Heat a dry pan on the fire until it’s red hot. Throw in the fillets and sear on each side for about a minute to 1½ minutes each side. Expect the olive oil to flame when it contacts the pan. Once seared, transfer the fillet to a preheated camp oven and cook for a further 10–15 minutes. When the meat is cooked, place it on a board and leave to stand for at least 10 minutes. While it’s standing, make the sauce.
Return the same frying pan used for searing the meat into the fire and heat. Add the chopped garlic and the chilli and fry for a minute or so. Add the quandongs and fry for a further couple of minutes. Pour the stock and any juice from the camp oven into the pan and stir. Reduce this over the heat for a few minutes—it’s quite okay to allow it to boil. You may wish to sweeten this with a couple of teaspoons of sugar. Palm sugar is by far the best, as it is not as harsh as white sugar and will retain the subtle tartness of the quandong. Mix the kuzu with the water, pour into the pan and stir until thickened.
Come and get it.
Slice the kangaroo in medallions across the grain, fan onto a plate and top with a couple of spoonfuls of the sauce. Serves 4.
Wine suggestion: Sparkling Burgundy.
Visit Andrew Dwyer’s website for outback yarns and great recipes.