Food History Friday: British tastes go Down Under

Fruits from the Bush (photo from Wikipedia)

For thousands of years, Aboriginal Australians lived off of the plants and animals native to Australia: Kangaroo, wallaby, emu, lizards and snakes were hunted for their meat, and local nuts, fruits and honeys were widely available. But for the British immigrants, who landed in Botany Bay in 1788 to form a penal colony, these foods were foreign and barbaric. The British saw the natives and their diet as primitive , and quickly set about introducing European crops and animals to which their palette was more accustomed. They imported sheep and cattle (which later gave rise to the booming Australian beef industry), rabbit and deer for hunting, flour for bread, and later, sugar. But the process of importing and introducing new foods was a long, arduous and expensive one. In the meantime, the colonists lived on rations brought with them from England. This post from The Old Foodie lists all the rations provided to each free colonist (notice that each one is given a weekly allotment of not only staples, like bread and meat, but also stranger things like raisins, vinegar, and mustard).

The few native ingredients that the colonists did use were those which could be most easily adapted to traditional British recipes. Bush berries and even some kinds of cacti were made into jam for jam tarts, and shark was substituted for salmon in baked fish dishes. As the number of cattle grew, the price of beef and dairy products fell, allowing the lower classes to incorporate them into their diet.

Victorian-era extravagance comes to Australia’s tea time. Photo from The Cook and the Chef.

By the late 1800s, Australian cuisine had begun to establish itself. New dishes, generally in the British tradition but invented in Australia, became popular, such as Carpetbag Steak (also sometimes called Pocket Steak). Instead of trying to mask local foods or adapt them to be more like their British counterparts, tropical ingredients like coconut, macadamia nut and kiwi became dominant flavors that defined the new Australian cuisine.

For more information on Australia’s culinary history, visit the Cambridge World History of Food, the Food Timeline, and The Old Foodie. To read about the later impact of Asian immigrants and their food on Australia’s cuisine, visit ABC TV’s The Cook and the Chef.

Carpetbag Steak & Mushrooms with Mustard Butter from Cuisine:

Mouthwateringly-delicious looking carpetbag steak from

Quick smart ideas from Ray McVinnie200g butter, softened but not melted
4 tablespoons wholegrain mustard
2 tablespoons chopped flat-leafed parsley
salt and freshly ground black pepper
6 x 150g eye fillet of beef steaks cut from the middle of the fillet, all fat and sinew removed
12 fresh oysters
12 rashers rindless streaky bacon
12 Portobello mushrooms, stalk cut flush with the cap
olive oil for brushing
6 x 2cm-thick slices French bread, toastedWhip the butter until pale and fluffy, whip in the mustard and parsley, taste and season. Refrigerate until needed.
Cut a cavity in the side of each steak along its equator and push 2 oysters inside each. Wrap a rasher of bacon around the equator of each steak and pin it in place with a toothpick.

Brush the steaks and the mushrooms with olive oil, season well and barbecue until the steaks are medium and
the oysters hot (around 4 minutes each side), and the mushrooms are tender.

Place each steak on a croûton, top with a spoonful of mustard butter and serve two mushrooms alongside.
Good with a green salad.

Spanish Paella

One of the most iconic Spanish dishes, paella (pronounced “pie-EY-yuh”) is a classic entree originating from Valencia. A spiced rice dish with vegetables, the most traditional kinds are made with a variety of local Spanish seafood, though many versions of “mixed” paella (chicken, chorizo, and seafood) are becoming popular internationally. Here’s a great classic seafood paella recipe from! One thing to note – with saffron (one of the most expensive spices in the world) and seafood, this dish can get a little pricey. It makes a lot, so try to split the meal and the cost with a friend!

Mixed Seafood Paella – Paella de Marisco


Makes 4-6 servings.

Prep Time: 45 min.

Cook Time: 1 hr. 10 min.


6 cups clam or seafood broth
1 tsp thread saffron
1 1/2 pounds firm-fleshed fish, cut in bite-sized pieces
1 dozen mussels
1 dozen small clams
12 large shrimp in shells
Sea salt
2 tbsp parsley, minced
8 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp fresh thyme
2 tsp sweet smoked paprika
8 tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
6 scallions, chopped
1 red bell pepper, finely chopped
1 large tomato, chopped
2 cups Bomba paella rice or Calasparra paella rice
Lemon wedges
Alioli (garlic mayonnaise)


Heat the broth in a large pot. Stir in saffron. Pat fish and shrimp dry between paper towels. Sprinkle with salt and let sit 10 minutes. With a mortar and pestle mash parsley, garlic, thyme and 1/8 tsp salt into a paste. Stir in paprika; add water if necessary to form a paste.

Heat 6 tbsp of oil in 15″ paella pan over medium high heat and quickly brown the fish 1-2 minutes. Do not fully cook. Remove to warm platter. Add remaining 2 tbsp of oil, onion, scallions and bell pepper to paella pan and cook until the vegetables are slightly softened. Raise heat, add tomato and cook until it becomes sauce-like, 2 to 5 minutes. Pour in the hot broth and bring to a boil. Sprinkle the rice evenly across the pan. Boil for 3 minutes, stirring rice and rotating pan occasionally. Add all reserved fish (but not shrimp). Stir in parsley paste. Taste for salt. Do not stir after this point. Lower the heat, continue to simmer until rice is no longer soupy but enough liquid remains to continue cooking the rice (about 10 min.). Add extra liquid if necessary.

Arrange shrimp, clams and mussels over rice, placing edges of mussel and clam shells so they open facing up. Cook, uncovered, for 15-20 minutes until rice is almost done. Remove pan from the heat and cover with foil. Let sit 10 minutes. Garnish with lemon wedges and serve with fresh alioli.