You may well have heard of kangaroo (Macropus spp.) tail stew, but chances are you have never eaten it, because it is unfathomably hard to get a hold of the key ingredient. It is shame, being in my opinion far and away the most delectable part of the animal. The only places I have seen it sold have been in the Northern Territory and South Australia, in both cases near Aboriginal communities – where people have very well informed preferences when it comes to kangaroo cuts (and buy tails with the skin on so that they can better cook them in the coals of a fire). I have no idea where the rest of the tails of the one and a half million kangaroos commercially harvested every year go other than a few that end up as dog treats. All I know is that it is a shame that none of them seem to go to a butcher or supermarket near you.
The alternative to buying a kangaroo tail is of course to go out and get one from a kangaroo yourself. But you are not allowed. If you own land you can probably get a permit to shoot some as a culling exercise and ‘pest control’, but these cannot be eaten and must be tagged and left to rot in the field. If you accidentally hit one with your car, you are not allowed to subsequently cut the tail off and be ‘in possession of it’ – something that applies to all native fauna. And you cannot (with the exception of some wallabies in Tasmania) hunt one. This one peculiar fact and its passing almost entirely without protest from the carnivorous public says all too much to me about the sad disconnectedness between most Australians, their environment and their food:
Alongside the government supported shooting of some one and a half million kangaroos a year, the world’s largest terrestrial wildlife harvest, it is illegal to take one for your own pot.
I will own up to having hunted kangaroos and having harvested parts from fresh roadkill (backstrap and tail), and do so with a completely clear conscience. But I will leave it to yours as to how you might get yourself in possession of a kangaroo tail. Truth be told, I haven’t sought them out to buy with much ardour and when (not if, trust me, people will eventually catch on) the market knows enough to ask for it, the wild game processors will respond. I am not suggesting the lack of roo tail in the shops is some cruel conspiracy; it is simply a product of a non-Aboriginal culture in most parts of Australia only a decade or so into the rediscovery of the culinary delights of its national emblem.
There are probably more roo tail stew recipes online than there ought to be given how rarely it must actually be cooked and you could alternatively adapt something from an ox-tail, ossobuco, or other shank recipe where you are trying to draw out the unctuousness of bone, marrow and/or cartilage. You might well do better than using my recipe (for example I am going here for my next tail), but here it is if only to explain what is in the pictures:
Recipe: The aim is to have the tail and nothing else (except some garlic cloves) as far as solids go so that when you share this with people likely never to have tried roo tail before they get to focus on it. I think that this still needs a rich broth and for this I do a ‘vegie juice stock’: 2 onions, 4 carrots and a half bunch of celery through the juicer. A bunch of parsley, 5 bay leaves and a few sprigs of thyme simmered (or just steeped like a tea in boiling water) for 5-10 minutes. I might also put the juicer pulp in with the simmered stock, but it does make it cloudier in the end. (If I were to buy a stock in, it would probably be beef, possibly with some stout poured in). This time I also put in 140g of tomato paste but might otherwise have deseeded some whole tomatoes through the food mill (or just used passata); all together it is about a stock that ends up sweet and with a bit of a tang. Brown the chunks of roo tail, pour in the liquids and pop in 5 cloves of garlic. My view on browning is that it is to cook a little caramelisation onto it that gives some sweet glutamate / umami flavour without it becoming a burnt bitterness. Stew for a very long time (4-12 hours). Serve with some of the broth, cracked pepper, bread and good supply of napkins.
It is perhaps true that I make a bigger deal of a good roo tail stew than many would because other than hunted meat, I don’t actually eat mammals or birds; no ox tails, veal shanks, bacon or fatty duck, nothing that has been farmed against which to compare this native delicacy. But I have shared it with enough people who do eat that stuff to know that I am on some fairly solid ground when I rave about it. It is hardly likely that you will be able to knock one up tonight, but if the opportunity ever presents itself, you should really give it a go.