What is Australia’s national dish? Many would say roast lamb. But things are changing!
We are a nation of indigenous people, convicts and immigrants. A country colonised by the English, barely 200 years ago, and an inheritor of its less than inspiring British food. Each new ethnic group of migrants would attempt to bring with it a particular type of food. It was difficult to keep this culinary history alive in Australia because of a lack of basic ingredients, huge distances from suppliers in the Northern Hemisphere and a society which demanded integration. Sadly many traditional dishes were forgotten by second and third generations.
A great deal of Australia’s early wealth was derived from the export of sheep’s wool and as a result much of the meat we ate was mutton (very old lamb).
Up until the late fifties our national dish might have been lamb chops, boiled potatoes, overcooked carrots and greying beans. On a Sunday it may have been a roasted leg of mutton with potatoes cooked alongside and all served, again, with overcooked vegetables.
This same leg of mutton, because of it’s very large size, would ensure a range of dishes, made from the leftover meat, during the week. Shepherds pie was not the succulent dish we know today but a grey paste of ground leftover lamb topped with mashed potato and baked into a dry tasteless mass. A curry, later in the week, saw the meat fried with onions, salt and a heaped teaspoon of Keens curry powder, all boiled together then thickened with cornflour. After WW2, when our food processing industry was in full swing, the adventurous housewife might add something from a can or rip open a packet of powdered soup to liven up this recycled lamb dish. The more exotic cooks might add a handful of dried sultanas and a sliced banana. This bright yellow concoction would be served on a stodgy bed of rice. Yum!? I still gag at the thought and was put off curries until I tried an authentic Indian curry. What a delicious and very different experience!
When I was young spaghetti only came in a tin. It wasn’t until my Italian neighbour invited me into her kitchen to cook that I began to understand what real pasta could be. My curiosity in food had been sparked and I’ve loved cooking ever since.
Since the Seventies, when air travel became cheaper, Australians have been great travelers, exploring the world with enthusiasm and returning with more sophisticated palettes, craving the food tried on their big adventure.
Thankfully new immigrants (with greater accessibility to raw materials and ingredients) are now bringing their food culture with them, no longer ashamed or being told to forget their pasts, and joyfully sharing it with the people of their new home.
Melbourne now has whole streets dedicated to particular ethnic groups and cuisines. Sydney Road Brunswick, rich in Arabic culture, is a prime example with its bakeries, delicatessens, pastry and butcher shops.
I’d planned to cook roast lamb for a big Middle Eastern feast we were having on Saturday night. Not your usual Aussie version but something much more exotic using Adana spicy mince and the lemony dried and crushed sumac berry. A trip to one of my favorite butchers, Istanbul Halal Meats (609 Sydney Road Brunswick) would be needed to buy their delicious Turkish Adana. Their lamb is the best in Melbourne and you will always be looked after and given great advice by any of the butchers, but in particular Billy or his mum Hafize. Billy was surprised that I was using the Adana as a stuffing as it is traditionally served as a Kebab or meat patty cooked over charcoal. I told him I was doing a post and would be keen to see what he thought of my recipe!
Despite all the new foods in our culinary repertoire, many Australians will still say the most traditional Aussie dish, and the one they crave when overseas, is Roast Lamb. Today I want to show you a very different version of this much-loved dish.
-The meat will take 2 hours to cook then another 2 hours of resting, covered, before serving. Give yourself plenty of time. The meat preparation can be done days ahead if you don’t have time on the day of the cook.
-The long resting time ensures that the meat stays tender and juicy pink. I have found that cooking it slowly for 4 hours in the oven turns the meat a very unappetizing grey colour and is very hard to slice neatly without the meat collapsing.
-As long as the meat is wrapped in a double thickness of the towel, after removing from oven, it will remain very hot but not so hot that you burn your fingers when carving.
1 x 2 kg (4.5 lb) de-boned leg of lamb (ask your butcher to do this if you can’t find one ready done or do it yourself… it’s not so difficult, just cut away from the bone).
1 kg Adana (Turkish spicy mince or any Middle Eastern equivalent)
2 tablespoons salt
1/4 cup Sumac (available at all good Arabic deli’s)
Start by turning your oven to 240 c (460 f)
Remove lamb from net.
Place meat, fat side down, and cut leg open. Find the thickest parts of the muscle and cut so that flesh remains attached (a kind of reverse origami). Keep thinning out the meat till a vague rectangle forms.
Place meat on large sheet of silicon paper and continue to cut and thin meat, patching holes, until large rectangle is achieved.
Press Adana onto surface of meat till completely covered.
Pick up edge of silicon paper and roll meat (like a sponge roll)…
until a fat sausage is formed.
Scatter Sumac and salt over paper.
Roll meat back onto spice mix…
until entire surface of roll is covered.
Wrap paper firmly around meat. The silicon paper will eliminate the need to tie roll with string and stop meat sticking to foil while cooking.
Then wrap meat in foil.
Two or three layers in both directions will be required to seal meat in.
Place meat in 240 c (460 f) oven on baking tray and cover base with about a 1/2 inch of water. The water will stop meat juices from burning while cooking. Keep topping up water during the cooking process. Set your timer to 1 hour.
After 1 hour reduce oven temp. to 190 c (370) and reset timer for another hour. Remembering to top up water as the meat cooks.
After the 2 hours is up remove meat from oven, place on large serving platter and wrap with a thick towel. Let it rest, covered, for 2 hours.
After 2 hours unwrap towel. Juices will have seeped out and can be used as a sauce.
Remove foil and silicon paper and place meat on a chopping board.
Cut meat in half and slice from centre to your desired thickness. The uneven end bits are yours to sample before meat goes to the table!
I like to place meat on top of the juices. If you spoon them over the top you may lose the gorgeous distinct colours of the roll. Your guests can spoon over juices when they serve themselves the lamb.
That night all the guests contributed something and we served lots of yummy vegetable dishes to accompany the meat…A jewel like salad of cucumber, tomato and pomegranate with a pomegranate molasses dressing.
Green beans with a rich tomato and Ajvar sauce.
Swiss chard, rice and smoked paprika. Moroccan pumpkin and lentils.and lastly Potato Kibbi.
It was all bloody delicious and nearly killed the diet!
If you’re not near a large city you may have trouble finding the ingredients. Instead choose a different stuffing (invent your own) or spice mix and, using this technique, create your interpretation of this slow cooked roast. Love to hear what you come up with.
Cheers, Anna x
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The Lost Woman series follows the sexy adventures of Christina as she makes her way through a world of new media, design, fashion, travel, and … men.
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