Food’s such an interesting thing; there are some things regionally here in America that are really out there. In the Midwest one day, we were eating cow’s testicles deep fried – Rocky Mountain Oysters – quite normal for that part of town. And I think back to when I was a kid and my mom would cook lamb’s brain – and she’d call it “lamb’s fry.” As kids we had no idea – it had breadcrumbs with lemon squeezed on it.
It’s interesting how culturally you can cross so many boundaries, and what’s absolutely normal in one place. Here in California we think the cuisine is quite conservative, but I don’t see it that way. L.A. is the home of incredible sushi, and they eat stuff that my dad would never dream of eating. He’d be quite happy with a steak and kidney pie.
Here are some delicious staples of Australian cuisine, and how you can eat them:
I think we’re the only country to eat what’s on our coat of arms. We have an emu and a kangaroo, and we eat them both.
The kangaroo is a beautiful animal, but there’s a lot of them in Australia and they create some drama for farming, so it’s been eaten for a long time. The Aborigines have been eating them for some 40,000 years. It’s a very different animal to any kind of pasture animal we eat. It has a big muscular tail, which cooks a little like oxtail. It’s quite gelatinous and has dense muscle, so that’s incredible for making sauces and braises.
The front legs are small and the hind legs are big and strong, so there’s real flavor development. Each kangaroo you come across is a bit different. Some are bigger and tougher. It’s like cow – there are tender cuts of meat and tougher cuts. I’ve seen in the bush, these tribes have been cooking it for a long long time, and this one person took a piece of the tail and wrapped it in foil with a little olive oil and lemon myrtle, which is like lemon thyme. He buried these parcels in the coals and slowly cooked it for quite a few hours, and it was so tender when we opened them up. It was this big piece of tail just falling off the bone, and it was so delicious.
The emu is an extremely rich meat, almost richer than venison. It’s really dark and beet red in color, and you should eat it rare. It can be quite tough so a lot of times you can see emu made into sausage, but it has this rich, gamey flavor. They have these giant eggs, about the size of an ostrich egg, and you can make an omelette for 20 people out of one egg.
We farm crocodiles. They were hunted a long time in the wild but I guess the old attitude was, “They’re dangerous so let’s get rid of them.” So they were hunted and I guess that’s when we first started eating them. But Aboriginal people have been eating crocodiles for many years.
They’re now a protected species and for the most part we only eat farmed crocodile. Their meat is almost like veal or a really young beef. And we cook it in a similar way. The best way I’ve found is to pound it out ever so slowly and crust it with Parmesan cheese, fresh breadcrumbs and fresh parsley and cook it on a flat top (barbecue). It’s not something you’d find in restaurants all the time, but a lot of restaurants in the northern part of Queensland where it’s farmed will have it.
We have fish and chips on every corner. But the fish most commonly used is flake, which is shark. I don’t know why we call it that – maybe because “shark” isn’t so appealing on a menu. That’s an Aussie staple, where a lot of Australian families will have it for dinner Friday night. The best way to cook it is to deep-fry it – it’s one of those beautiful, meaty kind of dishes. As a surfer, I’ll admit I usually go for something other than shark.
This is ground pork with breadcrumbs and seasonings. It’s formed into a skinless sausage and rolled in puff pastry. We serve it with ketchup – we call it tomato sauce – that’s what you’d have as a snack playing around at golf or watching football.
Here’s another Aussie institution that’s pastry based with a meat-and-gravy mixture in the center. There’s a place in Sydney called Harry’s Café de Wheels and they do what they call a pie floater (because the gravy floats in the mashed potatoes). You’ll have a big spoon of mashed potatoes on top of the pie and they’ll scoop some potato out and fill it with gravy and stick a fork in it. So you’ll walk away with a pie and gravy all over your hand.
I grew up with it and I still love it – it’s some instinctual part of me. I don’t eat any processed foods, but it’s my exception. I find myself giving it to my son because for some reason I want him to know and love it as well.
The only way to eat vegemite is on a piece of toast straight out of the toaster, and be generous with the amount of butter you put on it, and put just a little bit of the Vegemite. Because it looks like Nutella or something chocolaty and delicious, the big mistake is people spread it on thick, but it’s a very intense flavor and you should use it sparingly. It’s salty and it’s one of those acquired tastes for sure.
It’s a chocolate-covered sponge cake, and you put jelly between the two sponge fingers. And it’s rolled in coconut so the coconut sticks to the outside of it, and it’s so delicious. That’s a quintessential thing to make and take to a kid’s birthday party. In America you have PBJs and associate that with your childhood – it’s one of those things in Australia.