Despite being raised in Australia, I was 26 years old before I tasted my first bite of kangaroo. I remember it vividly, in part because Aaron and I were on our first ‘real’ holiday as a couple in Broome, 2,200 kilometres north of our hometown in Perth, Western Australia.
We arrived in Broome towards the end of March. Despite transitioning into the Australian autumn, it was oppressively hot, humid and bright. Despite those minor details, I was ridiculously excited at the thought of spending a few days in paradise with my love. As a bonus, we were also visiting the hometown of our beautiful friends Kelly, Gareth and Amanda, all of whom we see only once every few months. We couldn’t wait.
A couple of days after our arrival in Broome, we jumped into Kelly’s car (a little rust bucket that she and Gareth generously lent to us) and embarked on a 19km trip to the aptly named 12 Mile Cafe (yes, I can convert from metric), a tiny organic establishment set within the beautiful grounds of Serendipity Farm.
Upon exiting the car, I immediately smelt the heady, rich fragrance of Malay spices, mangoes and galangal. It was intoxicating, particularly when factoring in my ridiculous dehydration. We sat at a tiny wooden table on the cafe deck, sipping fresh mango smoothies whilst awaiting our food orders. For me, marinated tempeh with fresh water spinach, young galangal and spicy peanut sauce was an easy choice. Aaron, on the other hand, chose kangaroo rendang with steamed basmati rice. I looked at him quizzically as sweat dripped from my brow, pooling onto a green serviette. He smiled reassuringly. I patted him on the shoulder before leaving to visit the drop-hole ladies.
My meal was amazing, in every sense of the word. Fresh, fragrant, colourful and deliciously nourishing. Aaron’s meal smelt like… well, wild game disguised in heady spices. He started chewing, thoughtfully registering every blissful mouthful. Eventually, he stopped for air and encouraged me to have a taste. In lovestruck compliance, I reluctantly agreed.
The first forkful of that rendang has lived on in my memory like a perfect photograph. It was rich, fragrant, warm and delicious, intensely meaty but beautifully balanced by lemongrass, star anise, shallots and coconut. We devoured the whole plateful before sucking the last of our mango smoothies. Aaron has subsequently pleaded on several occasions for me to recreate our Broome rendang experience, but to be honest, I was a little intimidated. The idea of creating a perfect holiday dish in a domestic kitchen sounded wonderful, but largely unachievable. However, last week I harnessed my anxiety and went kangaroo hunting at my local butcher (sans spear, of course).
Upon arriving at Swansea Street Meats, I was disappointed to discover in conversation with the butcher that kangaroo meat is no longer farmed in Western Australia (it’s all transported from Queensland, folks). I therefore carried 1.1kg of frozen kangaroo rump home in a cloud of disappointment, alongside a kilo of beef chuck and various rendang spices. That night, I made a rendang with tender chunks of slow-braised beef, roti canai and a water spinach salad. It was delicious, but I was still determined to triumph over the national emblem.
The following week, I defrosted the lump of kangaroo and set to work on recreating our Broome memory: the perfect kangaroo rendang.
That brings us to the present moment. Last night, I got home from work and raided the fridge for shallots, lemongrass, birdseye chillies, garlic, ginger and lime leaves. I blended a spice paste, lovingly fried it in hot oil, then set it aside whilst I prepared the kangaroo meat. Upon opening the plastic seal, I was immediately greeted with the pungent smell of bloodied game. It was… terrible. A clean version of roadkill. But still, I was undeterred. I diced it into 2cm chunks, coated it in seasoned flour and chucked it into a hot stewing pot. It sizzled, like game in the sunshine.
Fast forward three hours. The sun had long set below the horizon and street lights were sending dappled patterns across the coffee table. I stood, kneading dough for the roti canai whilst sipping from a cold bottle of Matso’s Mango and Desert Lime cider (necessary, when recreating a Broome dish. On the stove, the rendang sat, quietly bubbling as clouds of fragrant steam rose towards the ceiling. It smelt divine; rich, meaty, sweet and dense with spice. I was pleased; even more so when my roti perfectly bubbled on the cast iron pan.
Half an hour later, Aaron and our friend Manuel arrived on the doorstep, sweating from a gym session. Post showers, food was assembled on the table and we loaded our plates generously. Then, we ate. In silence. Despite my initial reservations, I was stuffing my face without a scrap of restraint. Tender chunks of kangaroo combined with fresh coriander, cucumber and rice were piled upon pieces of soft roti and before I knew it, my plate was empty. I can honestly attest that it was that good.
If you have any reservations about cooking or eating kangaroo, I’d encourage you to put them aside for the benefit of this dish. When bought from a sustainable, responsibly-run farm, kangaroo is a very safe, nutritious and ethical meat to consume (see ‘resources’ below if you’d like to read more). It’s high in protein, low in fat (about 2%) and a good source of conjugated linoleic acid, which has been attributed with a wide range of health benefits including anti-carcinogenic and anti-diabetes properties. Though kangaroo is generally stronger in flavour than beef, lamb or other commercially-raised food animals, it’s wonderfully balanced in the strong flavours of this otherwise-authentic Malaysian dish.
Try it. From one kangaroo skeptic to another, you’ll be glad that you did.
Serves 4-6 (or one very, very hungry person)
- 1.1 kg responsibly farmed kangaroo rump
- seasoned flour, for dusting
- 5-6 tbsp vegetable or light olive oil
- 1 cinnamon quill (cinnamon stick), broken in half
- 4 cloves
- 3 star anise
- 3 large black cardamom pods, cracked (pound gently in a mortar and pestle)
- 1 cup (240ml) thick, full-fat coconut milk
- 1 cup (240ml) chicken or vegetable stock
- 2 tsp tamarind pulp
- 6 kaffir lime leaves, chopped finely
- handful of curry leaves
- 2 long mild red chillies, halved lengthways (optional)
- 1-2 tbsp palm sugar, to taste
- pinch of sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 6 tbsp kerisik (toasted coconut, finely ground)
- fresh coriander and cucumber pickle (I just mixed cucumber with oil, lemon juice, toasted coconut and cumin seeds, fresh coriander, crisp-fried shallots and salt) to serve
- 5 Asian shallots, peeled and chopped
- 1.5 inch galangal root, coarsely chopped
- 1.5 inch ginger root, coarsely chopped
- 3 stems of lemongrass, thick white base only, coarsely chopped
- 5 cloves of garlic, peeled
- 4 small birdseye (Thai) chillies, whole (stems removed)
Prepare the spice paste: add all of the chopped spice paste ingredients to the bowl of a food processor (no need to peel the ginger or galangal, it’ll blend up fine). Blend until well combined.
Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add in the spice paste and gently fry it until aromatic, softened and reduced. Add in the cinnamon, cloves, star anise, kaffir lime and cardamom pods. Fry for 2 minutes or until fragrant. Remove from pan and set aside.
Cut the kangaroo meat into 2 x 2cm cubes. Dust with a little seasoned flour, then fry batches of meat in the same saucepan (you may need to add a little more oil as kangaroo meat is very lean) until browned. Add the spice mixture back into the pan and mix well.
Add in the coconut milk, tamarind paste, stock, curry leaves, palm sugar and a little water. Bring to the boil, then replace the pan lid and reduce the heat to a low simmer.
Cook, covered, for about two hours or until the meat softens and starts to fall apart. Taste and adjust seasonings as necessary. Remove the lid and add in the kerasik. Cook for another 60-90 minutes, or until the liquid reduces to a ‘dry curry‘ consistency.
Skim any oil off the surface of the curry if required. Serve with coriander, steamed rice, the roti canai (below), cucumber pickle and some toasted shallots, if desired.
Roti Canai (Malaysian flatbread)
This is a somewhat ‘Westernised’ recipe, adapted for the general home cook. To me, it tastes exactly as it’s supposed to; slightly chewy, layered, crisp on the outside and perfectly bendable for mopping up curry sauce. If you’d like to make a more traditional version, omit the yoghurt and yeast (and consequently, the resting/rising time). Fry as specified. More info on Roti Canai here.
Makes 6 x 15cm diameter flatbreads
- 2 (240g) cups plain flour (+ 1 cup for kneading)
- 3/4 cup (180ml) of tepid/lukewarm water
- 2 1/2 tbsp natural yoghurt
- good pinch of salt
- 1 tsp caster sugar
- 1 tsp high activity yeast
- pinch of baking powder
- Butter and oil for frying
In a small bowl, mix the yeast with the tepid water and the sugar. Set aside until frothy.
Combine the flour, yoghurt, salt and baking powder in a medium bowl. Add in the yeast mixture, then mix until you have a sticky dough. Turn out onto a well-floured surface and knead for 5-10 minutes (sprinkle more flour onto the dough as required; I added at least another 3/4 cup) or until the dough becomes elastic and smooth.
Form into a ball, then place into an oiled bowl. Cover with a clean damp tea towel and set aside to rise for 1-2 hours in a warm, draft-free place (I ended up storing my dough in the slightly warm oven after I had turned it off).
When the dough has doubled in size, remove it from the bowl and place it onto a well-floured bench. Punch out the air and knead it for five minutes (sprinkle more flour on top if the dough becomes tacky) before dividing the dough into 8 pieces.
Preheat a large, heavy-based frying pan over medium heat. Add 1/2 tsp butter and a good splash of oil; heat until smoking. Roll out one piece of the dough into a thin (~3mm thick / 15cm diameter) flat circle, then quickly drop it onto the piping hot fry pan. It should immediately start to sizzle and puff (sorry for the lack of pictures during this stage, I was working quickly). When the top surface is covered with large bubbles, flip the bread over and press the air out with an egg flip. Remove from the heat when browned on both sides; leave to cool on a paper towel. Repeat the process with your remaining dough.
Serve plain, as I did, sprinkled with salt or spread with garlic butter. If you’d prefer to oven-bake these breads, lightly brush them with oil and bake them on a preheated, lined baking tray or pizza stone at 230 degrees C (445 degrees f) for about 10-15 minutes, or until golden spots appear.
- Eating Skippy – a fantastic article by Fuschia Dunlop for BBC News
- Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade – Kangaroos in Australia
- Kangaroo Industry of Australia
- The Conversation – Australia’s Commercial Kangaroo Industry
- Marketplace Demand for Kangaroo Meat Consumption in Western Australia: A Sustainability Issue – Lynda Braddick (2002, thesis)
Just a couple of obligatory ‘eating photos’, since I don’t have Instagram:
On a Personal Note:
- The pictures for this post were taken with my new Canon EOS 70D, a completely overwhelming gift from my beautiful, wise and generous mother, Kim. I love you immeasurably. I am so, so grateful for everything you do. Aaron and I will be snap-happy for weeks!
- Another thank you to the coolest sister-in-law on the planet, who got me these measuring cups (below) as an early birthday gift. Now I’ll be measuring things just for fun! Juls, you are beautiful and thoughtful in every way. Can’t wait to use them in a proper baking shoot!
- Thirdly, a big thanks to Jason (our generally awesome friend and computer programmer extraordinaire) for messing around with some CSS modifications on my blog. Couldn’t have done any of the changes without you! Thanks also to Anna for being generally beautiful, warm, generous and lovely (and for staying up late so that Jason could mess with my blog!)