Stirring the possum . . . and chewing it, too Author: John Lethlean Date: 15/06/2002 Words: 584 Publication: The Age Section: News Page: 3 Possum has landed on the fashionable tables of Melbourne, reports John Lethlean. What would Dame Edna make of it? Suburban Melbourne's least favourite marsupial has come out of the trees and on to the menu of one of St Kilda's groovier restaurants. Over the past few weeks, possum has been a regular fixture on the specials board at Bar Corvina in Fitzroy Street. Slowly braised in a cheeky South Gippsland pinot noir with sage and juniper, the possum is served with button mushrooms and a mustard- seed mash. “I've tried to do it like coq au vin,” says Corvina's pioneering chef John McNair, who has been pleasantly surprised by diners' response to the brush-tail. “I call it possum au vin.” Bar Corvina's possum is all above board: the meat comes from Launceston where a local company, Lenah Game Meats, processes about 30,000 wild possums each year. They are trapped or shot by professional possum harvesters; Tasmania's possum population is about nine million. The Tasmanian brush-tail is a larger version of the protected creature found grunting volubly in Melbourne back yards. Almost all Lenah's possums are exported to Chinese communities around the world. Bar Corvina's flirtation with possum is not the creature's first appearance in Melbourne kitchens; Chinese restaurants have served modest amounts of possum since Lenah began distributing small quantities here in 1993. The Flamin Bull Australian Indigenous Restaurant, in Carlton, has served possum pie since it opened 18 months ago. The possum is cooked with native herbs and spices such as lemon myrtle. It is also served in the style of osso buco. Bar Corvina's dish is the first time possum has gone mainstream, attracting attention for culinary nuance rather than novelty. “I just thought I'd give it a go as a bit of an experiment,” said McNair. “I like to try new things.” Like other native meats, possum is lean and, at about $11 a kilo, relatively cheap. And at $18.50 on the specials board, the possum has been walking out the door, so to speak. Cute furry creatures on plates often create controversy. The fashionable London restaurant St John hit British headlines earlier this year when it served squirrel. Of course, Britons have been eating grey squirrel (“little more than a rat with a spin doctor,” according to food writer Adam Edwards) for a very long time; it has just slipped from fashion in recent decades. Asked for a verdict on the possum yesterday, Bar Corvina regular Graham Chant said, “It's not as gamey as I expected, but I enjoyed it very much. It could be the way it's cooked, including juniper berries, but I found it quite boar-like.” I don't know about the boar-ishness of it, but possum meat marinated and then cooked slowly with wine is certainly not gamey. Unless you knew otherwise, you might just as easily take it for venison or even beef. The meat has a certain resilience - not chewiness exactly, but a texture that requires positive mastication - indicative of its wild origins. Back at the Flamin Bull, manager Daryl Hughes said the possum usually met with one of two customer reactions. “People will often say, „Oh, how could you eat those cute little animals?‟ The other reaction is, „Fantastic, now I can have my own revenge on the bloody things.‟ “ EXOTIC MEATS ON THE TABLE Possum, crocodile, wallaby, kangaroo, emu, camel, buffalo, bison, Cape Barren geese, mutton-birds, venison, rabbit, hare, goat, yabby and ostrich.
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