Here in the Eastern Bay of Plenty we have had wallaby in the news over the last couple of weeks – and not because of the rugby. There is a healthy population of Dama wallaby in the Kawerau area and there a concerns that the population is spreading to other areas. The Regional Council has asked for sightings of them to be reported. My worst fear is that they are planning to poison them. Why does that worry me? Because they taste so good and it would be a shameful waste of good food!
According to a published paper by Wodzicki and Flux, there were 12 species of marsupial introduced to New Zealand between 1858 and 1870. These included the possum and a few wallaby species. Here in the Eastern BOP Dama wallabies have flourished. Around Canterbury, in the South Island, there is a population of the larger Red Neck wallaby which has also done well. I have memories of eating Red Neck wallaby as a child and thinking it was the best thing I had ever eaten. I have a similar memory from my first culinary encounter with the smaller Dama wallaby here.
Wallabies were listed on the Noxious Animals list in the mid-1950s. That means they can not be kept as pets or farmed. They eat our native forests, and like all the other introduced pest species, there is no natural predator for them, so we need to manage the population. My favourite way to manage an animal pest is to cook them. Make a pest into food; eliminate the need for poisons – a net gain to the environment.
The age of the wallaby meat determines the way I cook it. A young animal has a sweet and delicate flavour, while the older animal can be a little tough and gamey. The tail meat can make delicious steak or casserole. The legs lend themselves to a slow cook, as you would for shanks. I often mince the meat for burger patties, rissoles or lasagne etc…
Wallaby meat is not only tasty, it is also good for you. It is very lean but is a good source of omego-3. It is very rich in iron, zinc and a 150gm fillet will provide between 30 and 100 of your daily requirement of the vitamin B family. It is good for your mood and your general health. Unfortunately you can’t easily obtain it from a store – you need to know a hunter who can get some for you. But if you do know a hunter, please encourage them to shoot wallaby. It would be a tragedy to see the wallaby poisoned, or to see cullers sent in to leave them to rot in the forest. What a waste!
75 g plain flour
500gms of diced wallaby tail and legs wallaby
100 ml good oil
1 celery stalk, chopped
1 large carrot, peeled, chopped
1 onion, chopped
5 garlic cloves, smashed
1 tsp celery seeds
2 bay leaves
1 tsp dried thyme
2 tsp peppercorns
2 sprigs each oregano and rosemary (1tsp dried)
400 g can chopped tomatoes
850 ml can tomato juice
500 ml (2 cups) red wine
250 ml (1 cup) good beef stock
2 tbsp tomato paste
Preheat oven to 180°C. Place flour in a clear plastic bag – season with a little salt and pepper. Put some diced meat in with seasoned flour, shake to coat meat in flour. Remove meat from flour, shaking off excess.
Heat oil in a large, heavy-based frying pan over high heat and brown meat, turning, for 3 minutes. Remove meat from pan and place in a casserole dish.
Clean frying pan and return to high heat with some oil. Add vegetables, onion, garlic, spices and herbs, and cook, stirring, for 3 minutes .
Stir in tomatoes, juice, wine, stock and tomato paste. Bring to the boil, then carefully pour over meat.
Cover and transfer pan to oven. Bake for 2½ hours. Stir after each hour and add water if necessary.