Expedition To Australia I: Fire Up The Barbie!

Thanks to media sensations the likes of Paul Hogan (‘Crocodile Dundee’) and the late Steve Irwin (naturalist and showman), the rest of the world is well acquainted with the boisterous, hearty Australian stereotype. Well, I’m here to tell you, it extends to their food, too!

Aussie Grilled Prawns - © boppandtone.com.auClassic Australian Grilled Prawns: Slip one on the Barbie!

“Slip another shrimp on the barbie!” pretty much sums up the international image of Australian cooking. That, and beer. But there’s much more to Australian cuisine – and it’s not all just direct recipe imports from the cultures that have contributed huge waves of immigrants to populate the island country-continent.

Most readers will know that Australia was considered ‘the end of the earth’, literally, to the British and Europeans of the 18th and 19th centuries. In fact, the Brits began deporting their most troublesome convicts there in the mid 1800s to ease prison crowding at home – and ensure that the baddies would be gone from British society forever. They brought British culinary traditions and ingredients with them, of course. But since then other cultures have weighed in, as well.

Like any other country with a big salt-water coastline, Australian cooking uses lots of fish and seafood. And you’ll discover that Australians have also learned to make good use of the land animals they found when they arrived.

On our menu today

Grilled Prawns: The original ‘shrimp on the barbie’. But be sure to call them ‘prawns’ when talking to Aussies. The ‘shrimp’ reference is from a 1984 tourism ad, starring the aforementioned Paul Hogan before he was Dundee. It’s assumed they feared ‘foreigners’ wouldn’t know what a prawn was. Nevertheless, Australians love their prawns, marinated then grilled quickly at high temp to crisp them up on the outside. One ‘signature’ marinade calls for salt, pepper, garlic, fresh red chili peppers and oregano in olive oil. For the full Australian grilled prawn experience, get the biggest King Tiger shrimps you can find.

Snags: Aussie colloquialism for ‘Sausages’. Mainly Beef and Pork, but other meats are also used on occasion – notably lamb, and even Kangaroo.

Aussie Snags - © delicious.com.au

Snags are traditionally flavoured with garlic and onions; definitely not too spicy. Also a mainstay of the Aussie BBQ. Serve them with grilled onions on buns or just cradle them in a folded slice of bread.

The Parm: The ‘Chicken Parmesan’ treatment for a variety of foods. Originally featuring eggplant, which is still widely available for vegetarians), the Parm now leads the list on most Aussie bar food menus featuring chicken. As you might expect, it’s usually served with a fresh salad and ‘hot chips’ (french fries).

Burger: Not what you know as a Burger. Aussie travel website Skyscanner puts it colourfully: “If tomato, lettuce, onions and a juicy meat patty just isn’t enough burger, then maybe you should try the Aussie gut-buster with ‘the lot’.”

Aussie Burger The Lot - © k-roo.com.au

“Take a burger bun and stuff it with barbecued meat, salad, sauce and, for the Australian twist, add a slice of pineapple, some pickled beetroot and a fried egg. Perfect after a long day surfing or relaxing on the beach.”

Battered Fish: The star of Aussie ‘Fish and Chips’. Australians favour Basa or New Zealand Hoki for their Battered Fish. Both are cheap and plentiful – and solidly traditional. As for the batter – a beer-blessed, lightweight mixture is preferred, to produce a crispy, Tempura-like crust. Served with ‘Hot Chips’, of course, and served with either old-fashioned Tartar Sauce or (more contemporary) Thai Sweet Red Chili Sauce for dipping.

(Hand) Pies: You’ll detect more than a glimmer of influence here from British hand pies. Often made in muffin tins, they’re short-crust tarts filled with mildly spiced minced (ground) or cubed meat – usually beef, simmered in a thick sauce like a stew until it’s fall-apart tender.

Aussie Hand Pie - © wandercooks.com

Australian Pies are traditionally served with a slosh of Tomato Sauce. Great a quick lunch, snacks or anytime you feel peckish.

Grilled Kangaroo: What it says. There are lots of different marinades and preparations floating around down under, but the key seems to be not to sizzle the Roo too long, lest it get tough. I’ve had Kangaroo. It’s a very lean meat and the flavour will remind you, at least a little, of veal. My feeling is that Kangaroo should be stewed or braised to ensure it turns out tender and juicy. But you know those Aussies – they’ll slip anything on a barbie!

Vegemite: A brewer’s yeast extract that simply bursts with ‘umami’. It’s usually smeared sparingly on hot buttered toast for breakfast or a snack (see photo, top of page). Everyone loves it, and it’s found in virtually every Australian pantry. It’s actually healthy,in as much as it’s high in B Vitamins, and Aussies believe it will keep the ‘mozzies’ (mosquitos) away.

There y’ go, mate!

Your introduction to truly Australian cuisine. Tomorrow we’ll explore the Australian breadbox, it’s wonders to behold..

~ Maggie J.