There has always been a sense of community around Sydney cafe Three Blue Ducks. It has loyal patrons and a warm, casual vibe; it’s like eating at a mate’s place. There is also a real authenticity about the big flavours and simple dishes served. Chefs Darren Robertson, Mark LaBrooy and Shannon Debreceny were promoting the use of local produce and sustainable suppliers before it became popular practice in our city’s cafes and restaurants.
The Blue Ducks’ Real Food, written by LaBrooy and Robertson, is an extrapolation of these philosophies, applied to home cooking. No one cuisine is featured. Rather, hearty wholefood recipes are broken up by guides on how to shuck an oyster or make labne. It’s undeniably healthy, but doesn’t adhere to one particular diet or way of eating. Each recipe is introduced by an anecdote or story.
“We initially wanted to write a book to tell the story of Three Blue Ducks, to share our food philosophy, recipes, lessons and mistakes,” says Robertson. If they had followed the early, romantic vision for the book, it may have looked very different. “I initially wanted a book just for chefs – a limited edition, only available in old, back-alley bookshops. No words on the front cover, just a picture of a landscape. It was then explained to me that we'd only sell about five copies, so we decided to go for something more approachable, fun and relevant to the home cooks and the chefs,” he says.
Standout recipes include the chilli crab (Robertson’s favourite); Indian beef short rib curry; and miso-caramel baked apples. If you have a Sunday afternoon free, you can try making almond milk, kombucha, or practice shucking oysters. “Making recipes from scratch gives you total control over the outcome and a better understanding of the food. It’s also a lot more fun,” says Robertson.
The recipes aren’t all time consuming: big, throw-together salads and one-pot stews are ideal for mid-week dinners. “Our food isn't really super intricate or difficult. Most people are time poor – throwing together a plate of pork ribs, roasted veggies, mixed-grain salads is a lot easier than you imagine.”
Braised Lamb Shoulder – The One Pot Wonder
1 2–2.5kg lamb shoulder, bone in
Salt flakes and freshly ground pepper
2 tbs vegetable oil
1 handful of cocktail onions, peeled
1 bulb of garlic, peeled
2 carrots, peeled and chopped into chunks
2 long red chillies, roughly chopped
3 heaped tbs tomato paste
750ml red wine
1L vegetable stock (or chicken stock)
6–8 sprigs of rosemary, leaves picked and roughly chopped
1 handful of thyme sprigs, leaves picked and roughly chopped
400g can diced tomatoes
10–12 chat potatoes
Preheat the barbeque grill on high.
Heavily season the lamb shoulder and grill until it’s coloured and a little charred on each side. Set the lamb aside.
Place a heavy-based saucepan, large enough to hold the lamb with the lid on, over high heat. Add the oil, onions, garlic, carrot and chilli and fry, stirring, until the onions take on a little colour. Add the tomato paste and fry until really caramelised – the tomato paste will darken and the pan will start to get quite sticky.
Deglaze with the red wine and stock. Add the rosemary, thyme and tomatoes, stir, and then add the lamb to the pan.
Throw in the potatoes and bring to a simmer with the lid on. Turn the heat down to low, season and cook very gently for 3 hours – you want the liquid to just tick over, if you lose too much liquid to evaporation, you won’t end up with a beautiful, tender piece of lamb.
Once cooked, you can serve straight from the pan or transfer the lamb and potatoes to a serving platter and spoon over the braising liquid – reduced if you prefer.
Serve with wet polenta or crusty bread.