Tuesday, April 6, 2010

A sort of monty-python experience.

to dig into the recessess of Python memory "Stormy petrel on a stick!"
"What flavour is it?"
"Bloody seabird flavour of course."

I'm not an instant and total convert to muttonbird - but it's far from as bad as those who don't like it made out. It tastes rather like what it is - a seabird, with more than a bit of oily fish flavour. I've eaten wild duck that had a similar flavour. I did them 2 ways - firstly hot smoked, and secondly crusted with dried saltbush and roasted in the Cobb (a charcoal barbeque kettle). I'll see what the hot-smoked is like by morning, but it did not really do great things for it fresh out of the smoker. It was edible. The crusted and roasted came under the heading of 'needs work, but you could do that again'. Parts of the bird are nicer than others - the breast, thigh and drumstick are best in ascending order. The bit around the wing is just fish-oil.

Muttonbirding is also one of those things people have delusions about. It's not easy. It's outright scary to put your hand (into the shoulder) down holes, which can and do have have snakes. And it's not every hole a coconut - nothing in some, some have adult birds or even penguins which bite like hell and there are water-rats too apparently (my hands are quite sliced up and sore this evening) and you don't want to wear gloves because temperature is how you know if the hole has a bird or a snake in it, and some of the holes you will never reach deep enough down. Still, I apparently did well for a newbie, and have been invited to go again. It's food, (about 20 meals for us) and that is something we cannot afford be too proud about. It's also part of learning to be an islander, which is important too.

They do pong and I can see why 'get us a few muttonbirds' is greeted with 'get your own.'


  1. Did you see any of the cute creatures that haunt the rookeries? You know, the 6 foot long ones that I'm not allowed to tell B about...

    They're rather beautiful, and a lot less temperamental than their southern cousins (especially during mating season, I find).

  2. Wondering if an overnight soak in that red wine might be a way of mitigating fishy birdy taste?

    And, yes, please! Pictures!


  3. We, or rather I, didn't see any of the 6 foot things, we had been taken to one of the islands where they are not so prevalent, thank goodness! I spent the first 10 minutes looking around really carefully, and then forgot all about them.

    Unfortunately we did not take a camera with us, or any non-essential items that could pick up the smell!

    Wonderful local tip. If you have any smelly clothes to wash, put a teaspoon of eucalyptus oil into the machine, it really does help a lot.

  4. I really doubt that marination would cut the fishy taste. Dave's comment about 'pure fish oil' pretty much describes my experience. In fact, the one I tried to cook initially wept so much fish oil that it actually managed to burst into flame. And that in my Cobb barbecue, which keeps direct heat away from the critters.

    Dave... props to you, sir. The prospect of sticking my hand into a hole which is potentially the home of a tiger snake is enough to put me off mutton bird. In fact, it would put me off pretty much anything.

  5. Hmm. I think that might be the difference Dirk - I cleaned every bit of visible fat off mine (also done in Cobb), I got relatively little grease in the cobb rim, and John says the adult diet must have changed as these are not nearly as strong as the ones of a few years ago. It might be his memory of course, but thin slivers of the smoked one are actually rather nice.

    Lin W - I'm going to try exactly that next time - red wine, peppercorns bay and juniper berries for 24 hour, and the saltbush flake crust, and perhaps a tart applesauce to go with it.