Australia – a land of contrasts, unusual wildlife and strongly influenced by waves of migrants. A country that began as a prison and took far too long to recognise the indigenous population. And as the former manager of Tourism Australia Ken Boundy once said “We must be the only country in the world that marks its national day not by celebrating its identity, but by questioning it.”
Australians tend to be an optimistic group of people, and if there is anything positive we can take from our messy history, it is that Australia Day has its origins in a party. The day was organized by convicts in 1808 on the twentieth anniversary of the arrival of the first fleet as a party to celebrate their survival in our harsh landscape. It wasn’t made official until ten years after that in 1818, when Governor Macquarie declared the day would be called Foundation Day and gave a holiday and extra rations to all government workers. A hundred years after that fateful arrival day, in 1888, all Australia (except South Australia) celebrated Foundation Day or Anniversary Day. Australia became a federated nation on 1st January 1901, and the national celebration wasn’t moved to that day, well, because there was already New Year’s Day. Why have a party on a day that already has a party, when you could keep the other date and have TWO parties! It’s the Aussie way….
It wasn’t until 1935 (some 147 years after the first fleet) that Foundation Day was officially renamed Australia Day. Around the 1988 Bicentennial, Australia finally started to grow up and look at their terrible early history, and many indigenous groups protested Australia Day, wanting it to be called Invasion Day. This questioning of our early history is a good thing, and the debate highlights Australia’s great diversity. We have a long way to go to start repairing some of the damage caused by those early years after 1788, but in one area of life in Australia, it does feel like we are growing up. Food.
Native Australian foods are becoming more popular, and kangaroo consumption has grown five percent a year over the last five years. That growth sounds spectacular in economic terms, yet kangaroo is still is less than 2% of the total red meat market in Australia, and less than half the people in Australia have tried it. Food trends tend to be driven by the top restaurants, and almost all of Australia’s most recognised restaurants have a kangaroo based item on their menu. Many also utilize other bush tucker foods, such as lemon myrtle, Warrigal greens, finger limes, and of course, most people have eaten macadamia nuts and local seafoods like barramundi.
As a recognition to Australia’s culinary history, this Australia Day, I’m cooking a baked potato with a bush tucker topping. Potato is such a wonderfully diverse vegetable. It’s probably my favourite, simply because it can be made into so many different dishes, and therefore it is a great symbol of the diversity that is Australia. Topped with kangaroo cooking in quandong sauce, with the traditional melted cheese and sour cream, this is a true fusion dish for Australia Day.
I sourced our quandong sauce from Kojonjup in WA when we visited there a couple of years ago. The rose maze there is worth a visit. It tells the story of three women living in early settled WA, and traces their lives via diaries as you meander through the maze. Our bottle of quandong sauce lives at the back of the fridge and we use a little bit of it every now and then. Quandong is a native peach with a sweet, tart flavour. If you can’t find it, you can substitute any tart fruit, such as red currants, cranberries or even rhubarb.
Baked Potato with stuffing
- 6 large potatoes (use a floury or starchy variety. The supermarket usually makes a note ‘good for mashing, baking, frying’)
- 200g kangaroo steak
- 1 Tbsp quandong sauce (or substitute sauce)
- Grated cheese (mozzarella)
- Olive oil
- Salt and pepper
- Sour Cream
Clean your potatoes and stab them all over with a fork. This allows steam to be released from the potato as it cooks and prevents it from exploding.
Place the potatoes in the microwave on high for five minutes. This will soften up the inside and reduce the cooking time by about half.
Rub the whole skin of the potato with olive oil and sprinkle it with a bit of salt.
Place in the oven at 180̊C for 50 minutes. Longer and slower will give you a soft fluffy inside, and crispy outer skin. You won’t need to do anything for the next 35 minutes while the potatoes bake, so take a little break, or make a side salad to make this a proper meal.
When the potatoes have about 15 minutes to go, prepare the kangaroo. Heat up a saucepan until it is very hot. Rub the kangaroo steak with olive oil and salt, then place it into the hot pan. After three minutes, turn it to the other side for another three minutes. Turn the heat off, but leave the roo in the pan to continue cooking. Heat up some of the quandong sauce in another pot (approximately half a teaspoon per potato).
Remove the potatoes from the oven and slice a cross into the top of each. Use a fork to loosen the potato in the top half, it should be nice and fluffy, so this should be easy. If the potato is still a little hard, put it back in the oven for longer until it is cooked and fluffy.
Take the kangaroo and slice it into thin slices (as thin as you can). It should be chargrilled on the outside, and still quite rare inside. It will finish cooking in the next stage, so don’t panic if you don’t like rare meat. Because kangaroo is very lean (only 2% fat), you do have to be careful not to overcook it. Place a few slices on each potato, then drizzle some of the quandong sauce over the top.
Scatter grated mozzarella cheese over the top and place under the grill for a few minutes until the cheese is melted and slightly brown. Top with sour cream to serve.