Ready for Lunar New Year? Complete your set of flavourful festive pastries with these lovely recipes!
Spring has sprung and that means new season lamb has hit meat fridges across Australia. As a country that used to “ride on the sheep’s back”, Australia has a long history with the wool and lambing industry and it’s a meat eaten across the country. While it’s not commonly found on menus in Asia, where beef and chicken and a plethora of seafood options take precedent, it’s still considered a delicacy and enjoyed whenever it’s available. In fact, Australia exports hundreds of thousands of tonnes of lamb meat to Asia every year.
If you’re a fan of MasterChef or consider yourself a bit of a foodie, then you’ve probably heard of saltbush lamb. Really, if you’ve been to an up-market restaurant or a trendy cafe you’ve probably read it on the menu. In the typical Australian tradition of bleedingly obvious naming conventions—think the Snowy Mountains or the Great Sandy Desert—saltbush lamb literally comes from sheep that eat saltbush, and it’s become a fast-growing food trend with international appeal.
Saltbush is the name given to a variety of semi-succulent plants that grow in the Australian outback. Traditionally, some Indigenous groups used the saltbush (“Purngep” or “Binga”) seeds in baking, where they were ground and added to dampers. The leaves were mostly used for medicinal purposes, often added to water as skin cleansers for sores, burns and wounds. Today the round, silvery-green toothed-edge leaves are added to stir-fries and marinades, dried and used as seasonings (it can be a direct substitute for salt) and even served fresh in salads. It’s even being used to flavour beer and as a botanical in spirits.
In the search for increasingly sustainable farming methods, saltbush is fast gaining popularity as a food for grazing sheep. Incredibly drought tolerant and rich in protein and natural minerals, saltbush is now being cultivated for feed and as grazing fodder in paddocks. Tim Woods—a long-time pastoralist—told The Australian: “It takes more time to raise the animals. It’s easier to just lock them up in a feedlot and give them grain. But this gives a better product, is more humane, and it’s sustainable. It’s more like what farming was before industrialised agriculture.”
The saltbush is planted in hedgerows and grows quickly. Naturally suited to Australia’s arid conditions, the roots grow deep and absorb the naturally occurring minerals in the ground. The planting layout encourages local birds and reptiles to move in and doesn’t require copious amounts of water or irrigation to survive. And there’s no need to use artificial fertilisers, chemicals or hormones.
Saltbush lamb isn’t just popular due to its sustainable nature; it produces great tasting lamb. Tim Woods, again to The Australian, describes it as “full of flavour, cleaner on the palate, with no lamby aftertaste.” Due to the free-range nature of the farming, the lamb is leaner and has a natural savoury-deliciousness from the saltbush.
With so many great stir-fries and braised recipes found in Asian cooking, saltbush lamb is a great addition to all of these. Add it to a massaman for the most luxurious and rich curry of your life, braise a shoulder in Cantonese style, or stir-fry in XO sauce or with heaps of dry chilli in the Sichuan style. The options are endless.
Got a favourite Asian lamb recipe? Let us know!