Essential ingredients: grouse
Author: Stewart Turner
The beginning of the game season starts another culinary cycle, as we move into autumn, although it starts in late summer with the first grouse shoots on the Glorious Twelfth of August.
These magnificent birds are often very strong on the nose, but – like a lot of smelly French cheeses – the flavour tends not to be quite as intense as the scent suggests. I’m a really big advocate of all game, as they have such interesting flavours and are much leaner, lower in fat and cholesterol than other meats, and a great alternative to more intensively farmed produce.
There is always a clamour to have the first grouse on the evening menus of the 12th August, and as such these first birds command a very high price. But I like to wait a few weeks, so the birds have had a chance to hang and are a bit more seasoned. We always have them on our early autumn menus, before moving to the later game birds as the season progresses.
This is a dish from our current autumn menus, my interpretation of the classic grouse and bread sauce, we always remove and confit the legs, but you can always just roast them separately or together.
- 4 medium sized grouse – legs, offal and wishbone removed
- Olive oil
- Salt and pepper
- 250g duck fat
Preheat the oven to 120°C. Clean the leg bone and take out the thigh bone. Season the legs well with salt and pepper, place in an oven proof dish and cover with the duck fat and foil. Cook for about an hour until tender. Remove from the duck fat and keep warm.
Increase the oven to 160°C. Heat the olive oil in an oven-proof pan. Season the grouse with salt and pepper, then seal on each side in the pan. Add the butter, garlic and herbs to the pan. Allow the butter to start foaming and then baste the grouse with the butter. Place in the oven and cook for about 10 to 12 minutes, depending on the size of the bird (we use a thermometer and cook to 55°C for medium rare, or 60°C for medium). Leave to rest in a warm place.
Once rested, take the two breasts off the bone – they should be nice and pink. Serve alongside the legs, seasonal greens, game chips, bread sauce and some lightly dressed watercress.
- 1 small onion – peeled and studded with 4 cloves
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 clove of garlic
- 2 sprigs of thyme
- 8 white peppercorns
- 1 star anise
- A sprinkle of freshly grated nutmeg
- 250ml milk
- 80g brioche – crust removed, blitzed into a crumb
- 30g unsalted butter
- 20ml double cream
Place the milk in a pan and add the onion, bay, thyme, garlic and spices. Bring to a light simmer, then remove from the heat and allow to infuse for half an hour. While the milk is infusing, place the butter in another pan and heat until it starts to bubble and turn a light brown colour. Remove from the heat and allow to cool.
Strain the milk through a sieve and return to the pan. Place back on the heat and add the breadcrumbs. Warm gently over a medium heat until it just starts to simmer, stirring occasionally until thickened. Finish with the butter and cream. Season to taste.
What to drink: The traditional match for grouse is red Burgundy, ideally a good, old bottle, and it’s hard to beat. That said, young Burgundy would suffice, or good Barolo (Nebbiolo’s delicacy can match that of Pinot Noir) as an alternative. For well-hung grouse, however, you can try savoury Syrah from the Northern Rhône, reds made with Mourvèdre (such as Bandol), or a Brunello di Montalcino – the bloody edge of Sangiovese would work well here, while the bright fruit would provide a lovely contrast.