About Me
I'm a Melbourne boy, hailing from St Kilda with one ex, one current wife and four kids. Love the outdoors and making new discoveries. I cook a lot at home (cheers from wife) and do some preserving, mostly jams, pickles and fruit liqueurs. This is the diary of a cooking journey.

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Thursday, September 25, 2008
Saltbush Lamb
'Good day', said Mitchell.
'Good day', said the manager.
'It's hot,' said Mitchell
'Yes, it's hot.'
I don't suppose,' said Mitchell; 'I don't suppose it's any use asking you for a job?'
'Well, I won't ask you,' said Mitchell, 'but I don't suppose you want any fencing done?'
'Nor boundary riding?'
'You ain't likely to want a man to knock around?'
'I thought not. Things are pretty bad just now.'
'Na -- yes -- they are.'
'Ah, well; there's a lot to be said on the squatter's side as well as the men's. I suppose I can get a bit of rations?'
'Ye -- yes. (Shortly) -- Wot d'yer want?'
'Well, let's see; we want a bit of meat and flour -- I think that's all. Got enough tea and sugar to carry us on.'
'All right. Cook! have you any meat?'
To Mitchell: 'Can you kill a sheep?'
To the cook: 'Give this man a cloth and knife and steel, and let him go up to the yard and kill a sheep? (To Mitchell): You can take a forequarter and a bit of flour.'
Half an hour later Mitchell came back with the carcase wrapped in cloth.
'Here yer are; here's your sheep,' he said to the cook.
'That's all right, hang it in there. Did you take the forequarter?'
'Well why didn't you? The boss told you to.'
'I didn't want a forequarter. I don't like it. I took a hindquarter.
So he had.

Mitchell: A Character Sketch by Henry Lawson

Henry Lawson loitered around outback New South Wales awhile, penning vivid stories about life in the bush, very often from the point of the working man or the just plain down and out, with whom he shared a subtle connection. His peregrinations took him through the heart of saltbush country, useless for anything else but sheep and the odd bit of cattle.

Saltbush is a very hardy shrub that thrives in arid country and is extremely tolerant of salt, an important consideration in many parts of Australia. In fact, its value as stockfeed and ability to grow in very dry conditions has led to the commercial development of saltbush as a crop, with Old Man Saltbush (Atriplex Nummularia) now being planted on a wide scale across the country.

It has high levels of vitamin E, a powerful anti-oxidant, and is thought to be responsible for the unique flavour and incredible tenderness of lambs that feed on it, as well as naturally extending shelf life and maintaining the rich red colour of the meat, without making the meat at all salty.

Ironic too, that after a couple of centuries of battling the bush to establish pastures in an environment hostile to it, we are now taking a lead from the land itself and planting indigenous crops that are completely suited to our harsh climate, helping protect the land from erosion and salinity.

Having read much about salt bush mutton and lamb, but never actually seeing any, it seemingly a bush speciality, you can then imagine my happiness at finding some at Prahran Market last weekend under the Bultarra label. There nestled alongside the other cuts were boned out and cryovaced legs and shoulders as well as lamb cutlets.

Unlike Mitchell, we like forequarter and bought a boned out shoulder to try and slow roasted it to juicy succulence. Wanting to fully experience the flavour, the joint was only salted beforehand. The kitchen filled with the aroma of the roast, which seemed unlike that of regular lamb, almost like lamb essence.

After a short rest, the meat carved easily into neat slices. Tasting was an amazing experience, there is no doubt that it is different to its grass fed cousins, the meat was quite dense, similar to the taughtness of free range chicken compared to pasty supermarket birds, my wife commented that it was veal like in texture.

As promised, it was also very tender, but the flavour was the remarkable thing. There is no doubt in my mind that the salt bush confers a concentrated lamb taste, not gamey in any way, just full on, robust, flavour; it was almost like eating lamb for the first time.

Bultarra saltbush lamb is a premium product and its price does reflect that, but if you ever wondered about it or want something a bit different, it's worth a try. We'll be having it again.
  posted at 8:11 am

At 1:50 pm, Blogger Ran said...

wow! i never knew where to get this either. its crazy that we have spent 200 years trying to change our environment to replicate european style agriculture when we could have been using local native pasture instead!

At 8:28 pm, Blogger MyKitchenInHalfCups said...

No surprise that I've never heard of it. But I'd be game to give it a go.

At 8:05 am, Blogger Zoe said...

I tried some that I got through the Canberra Farmers' Market and was disappointed - it was perfectly nice but not special, as yours was. I'm a bit suspicious about whether I actually got saltbush lamb. But lucky you!

At 1:09 pm, Blogger Lydia (The Perfect Pantry) said...

Once again I learn something fascinating here. I've never heard of this lamb, and doubt I will find it here in New England, but next time I'm lucky enough to travel to Australia, I'll keep an eye out for it.

At 9:38 am, Blogger Thermomixer said...

Slowly seems to be apeearing here in Melb. First had some that Cheong Liew brought from Sth Oz in early 90s, then at Andrew McC's Diningroom 211. He had Munro's SB lamb/mutton from Ouyen about 8 years ago.
It realy does make sense to utilize salt-tolerant crops in the bush, so hopefully we'll see more.
It's a bit like the pre-salé lamb from Normandy.
Thanks for the info - easier than driving to Ouyen.
Think there would be a premium to pay for somebody deboning the shoulder too, but it does have better flavour.

At 12:21 pm, Blogger neil said...

Hi ran, just crazy wasn't it and now we are reaping the whirlwind. Thank goodness some folk are showing us the way and with a great product to boot.

Hi tanna, you'd love it for sure, so tender.

Hi zoe, maybe you could go to the Bultarra website and ask if it's available in Canberra. I'd be interested in your thoughts if you gave it another go.

Hi lydia, I know they do export, but not sure about New England. It's ironic though, last year around this time, I was reading about grain fed lamb and how neutral the flavour was, guess there's a product for every taste!

Hi thermomixer, funny isn't it that this product has been around for a hundred or more years and only now is it getting some cachet. More than likely, salt bush mutton was what was available, with its much stronger taste, needing mint sauce or other strong condiment to make it palatable; Maggie Beer mentioned how good s/b mutton is in one of her books, but it might be an aquired taste. Thanks for the pre-sale lamb info, was wondering about any similarities.

At 11:54 pm, Blogger Haalo said...

Bultarra have been selling their saltbush lamb at the farmers' market for a while now - they are definitely at the Slow Food Market in Abbotsford. Buy it there and at least all the money goes to the farmer.

At 2:00 am, Blogger Jeanne said...

Very interesting post, Neil. It reminds me of Karoo lamb in SOuth Africa. The particular combination of wild aromatic plants that grow in the Karoo (a landscape I imagine to be rather like the Outback)and which the lambs feed on impart a flavour to the meat unlike any other lamb I have ever tasted. It was as if the meat had been heavily seasoned with herbs when I knew it had not!

At 10:30 am, Blogger neil said...

Hi haalo, you're luckier than me, you've been on to saltbush lamb for a while. Thanks for the farmer's market info, I haven't been to one for a while now, our Saturdays are jam packed at the moment. Anyone looking for farmer's markets time and places, can find out more about them at Haalo's blog, just follow the link, then click on the tab at the top of the page.

Hi jeanne, thanks for that, I was thinking South Africa must have a similar thing, sounds wonderful. I wonder what European salt marsh lamb is like?

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