Australia is a difficult one for me to isolate a “traditional” or national dish. If you search “national dish Australia,” you get results from informal polls with a lot of regional variance. If you search “traditional Aboriginal recipes Australia,” you get a lot of results that are all pretty clearly post-colonial influence and have to really, really dig for original cuisine.
What I am making today is a combination of a modern adaptation of an Aboriginal dish, damper bread, and a popular semi-national dish, roasted rack of lamb. For those wishing to skip to recipes, I am adapting the damper bread recipe from The Heart Foundation’s Koori Cookbook, an indigenous Australian/Aboriginal cookbook, and the lamb preparation from Eat, Little Bird, an Aussie expat blogger living in Switzerland.
The nature of colonization unfortunately resulted in a contamination of native culture – this is NOT unique to Australia (the prep I did for Argentina had obvious Italian influence) but it is still disappointing. In the US many “native” recipes are same – native in origin, but post-colonial in genesis (fry bread, Three Sisters soup, fried green tomatoes, and so on), compiled a few generations too late to be free of the influence of introduced ingredients and European cultures. Even if I had access to indigenous seeds and grains from Australia, the knowledge of ratios and techniques to make a traditional bush bread/seed cake would still make my prep a pale shade to what would have been made prior to British colonization. It is what it is.
You will need a cast iron pan with lid (a range safe dutch oven will also do), frying pan, and a deep baking dish for this prep. The lamb requires an overnight marinade so keep that in mind while planning.
LET’S DO THIS:
- 4 cups whole grain, unbleached flour
- 2 tablespoons baking powder
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1/2 to 3/4 cup milk
- 1/2 to 1 cup water
- 2 tablespoons olive oil or butter
- (optional) 1 egg, beaten
- (optional) 1/4 to 1/2 cup mixed seeds and nuts, finely ground into a flour (note, oily seeds/nuts may require a oven roast to be grind-able)
You liquid needs will vary depending on the flour you use. In a more traditional preparation, wheat flour would have been substituted with Australian millet, spinifex grass seeds, wattle seeds, bush beans, and even root plants like taro depending on what was seasonally available. If you have flours of these plants available to you, try mixing them in!
- about two pounds of bone-in rack of lamb, split
- 4 cloves of garlic, minced
- 4 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 tablespoons of high smoke point oil (avocado, canola, etc.)
- 2 teaspoons coarse salt
- 1-2 teaspoons fresh ground peppercorns
- 1 lemon, zested and juiced
- 2-4 sprigs fresh rosemary
- 1-1.5 pounds of small potatoes
- 10-12 ounces of heirloom tomatoes (if available to you, bush tomatoes)
Total prep time for me, marinade period not included, was about 35 minutes (18:10 to 18:30, 17:30 to 17:45), your time may vary.
Here’s what you’re going to do:
- Prep your marinade by mixing the lemon juice/zest, garlic, rosemary, olive oil, salt, and pepper in a bag. Place the racks in the bag and marinate overnight
- The following day, remove the racks from the bag and place on a plate to warm to room temperature. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Put the potatoes and tomatoes in the marinade bag, shake, and dump contents into your baking tray.
- Put the tomatoes and potatoes into the oven.
- While your lamb is coming to room temperature, prepare your damper dough
- Mix dry ingredients in a bowl thoroughly, make a well in the center
- Pour the milk in the well and fold it in, slowly adding water until you have a consistent dough that isn’t too tacky. Knead and fold, you should get a good malleable ball of dough once it’s appropriately glutenized, cover with a damp tea towel and set aside
- Once the lamb is room temp, heat the high smoke point oil to medium high and sear the lamb racks on both sides
- Take your potatoes and tomatoes from the oven, place the lamb racks bones upright atop and return to the oven.
- Bake the lamb for about 20 minutes, after 20 minutes remove from oven and allow to sit ten minutes – return your potatoes/tomatoes to the oven during this time
- While your lamb is baking and setting, cook your damper (if you are comfortable multitasking, you may being this step while searing the lamb)
- Damper is traditionally baked in coals – we’re going to skillet fry it instead. Heat the olive oil in the skillet or dutch oven on medium-low heat. Press in the dough and cook about 15-20 minutes, covered
- Flip the damper, brush the top with the beaten egg, and cook covered an additional 10-15 minutes – when done tapping the bread will give a hollow sound and will be risen with a golden brown color. Mine got a little burnt, I’d bumped my heat up by mistake and ended up a little darker than I’d intended but it’s still perfectly edible
- That’s it! Total time (overnight marinade not included) was about 1 hour, 40 minutes (18:10 to 18:30, then 17:30 to 18:50).