This year, Australia has experienced the worst drought on record, in NSW almost one hundred percent of the state was in drought. Fears of long term food security were being realised by the wider population, not just environmentalists and nutritionists. Farmers have lost catastrophic numbers of livestock, this is detrimental financially, environmentally and eventually could have resulted in severe shortages of foods.
Fortunately, spring has bought some much needed rain, and the worst fears of food insecurity have subsided. I do not believe though that this discussion has ended we really do need to consider, with Australia’s booming population how people are going to be supported nutritionally? In particular, our growing demand for protein.
Around the time of the drought, momentum was growing, to find sustainable sources of protein, like insects and locusts. Now this yet to turn up in your local supermarket, but for many cultures in Asia and South America, insects are traditionally a cheap and sustainable source of protein. I personally think we have some much more culinary friendly options that for reasons I am not sure have fallen out of favour with consumers, foodies and celebrity chefs.
Alternatives to beef, pork and lamb:
There are so many other options that are considered either game or native such as emu, crocodile and kangaroo. I am however going to focus on the ones that I personally believe will have the greatest acceptance of the consumer market and taste most appealing.
Rabbit: in the great depression and post war period, rabbit was extremely popular. It was often called “underground chicken” as it was much cheaper than chicken. Around south Sydney, the name Rabbitohs comes from the man who used to go around the streets selling skinned rabbits to the poorer neighborhoods. Rabbit has unfortunately, with consumer prosperity fallen out of favour. I am sure having rabbits as a loved pet or the Easter Bunny does not help the cause.
However, rabbits are easily raised and require very little food and water compared to other protein like beef. The flavour of rabbit is delicate and can be easily substituted wherever chicken or lamb is used. I use rabbit in curries, pies, ragout, casseroles and braises. Rabbit is a lean meat so it is a great option for those that are looking for less fattier meat.
Goat: is a popular choice among Indian/South Asian, Mediterranean and Middle Eastern diets. Australians however are less familiar on preparing goat and would generally avoid choosing it over beef or lamb. Goat is best prepared in braises, curries and casseroles as it can be tough if not rendered. The flavour is very similar to lamb and is particularly good in spicy dishes. Italians prefer the younger goat known as “capretto”, as it is more tender and milder in flavour.
Goats are very adaptable to arid conditions, they require little water and grow rapidly unlike cattle. Their milk is also savoured to make wonderful cheese and yoghurt.
Vension: not a great favourite in Australia, nearby in New Zealand, venison is extremely popular. Venison has a rich gamey flavour that is delicious in all slow cooked preparations. Deer is more akin to colder climates so they would be more suited to Australians southern agricultural areas. Deer can be more sustainable, as they do not require large amounts of feed and water. Deer need to be controlled as do goats and rabbits as they can become problematic for environmentally sensitive habitats.
Nose to tail philosophy:
The idea of eating organ meats or offal is not a new idea, cultures have eaten the whole animal for thousands of years. Organ meats resonates with the hunter and gather ethic of wasting nothing and every part has a purpose, from the meat to the skin and bones.
Organ meats are worth considering as an alternative to steak and sausages as they are definitely sustainable and highly nutritious. The organs such as hearts, kidneys, brains and liver are rich in vitamins and minerals. They are a great source of fat-soluble vitamins they are vitamins A, D, E and K. Organ meats are rich in magnesium, iron, copper, choline, B12, phosphorous, zinc and co-enzyme Q10.
Bone marrow, my personal favourite is rich in Alkylglycerols (AKG’s) in bone marrow are shown to increase white blood cell count. Bone marrow is an amazing restorative food for those who have chronic illness, cancer or children who are failing to gain weight.
The idea of eating organ meats may sound unappealing to many people but when I remind people of the culinary and cultural connection with organ meats they suddenly realise that it isn’t that strange. Consider these wonderful examples:
Liver: pate, liver masala, traditional bolognaise and ragout
Kidney: steak and kidney pie
Brains: French crumbed brains
Blood: blood sausages or Boudin Noir
Hearts: stuffings for turkey and duck
Tongue: the Italian classic “Bollito Misto”.
Bone Marrow: osso buco, and my bone marrow custards
Rabbit Ragout Recipe
I am fortunate enough to have a neighbour who supplies me with rabbit that is sustainably and ethically raised on her sons’ farm in Nimbin. My whole family really love this dish, nothing is wasted, the bones are washed clean the pasta demolished. Any left overs, if any, are happily devoured for lunch the next day.
If you are following a low carb diet, swap the pasta for cauliflower and ricotta mash. Of course, zoodles are always a great low carb option or simply serving the ragout on a bed of wilted spinach.
4 rabbit marylands, or one rabbit jointed into pieces
1 onion chopped,
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 stick of celery, finely chopped
1 large carrot, diced
1 cup of chicken bone broth
2 tins of tomatoes, or one bottle of tomato passata
2 bay leaves
Handful of fresh basil leaves, chopped
Enough pasta for 4 serves, my boys love fresh pappardelle with this dish.
Brown the rabbit marylands in olive oil on both sides, remove from the pan. Sauté onion and celery until soft, then add garlic and cook for a couple of minutes. Add carrot, stock, tomato and bay leaves, bring to the boil. Add rabbit pieces and reduce to a simmer, cover and allow to cook for about an hour and a half. I love to use my old cast iron pot for my ragout, this can easily be done in a slow cooker or any cooking vessel that works well for you.
Cook pasta in salted boiling water. Once the ragout is done, add the chopped basil and serve with the pasta. Enjoy with a simple salad of radicchio and fennel.