Grouse are Galliformes like chickens and range in size from 11 oz to 14 lbs! Stephens says they are mostly vegetarians “living on heather shoots, seeds and insects”. This diet gives them their distinctive flavor. Their feathers (especially those of the black grouse) were popular as ornaments for hats during the Victorian age (and are still used on hunting hats) although grouse are most prized today as a game bird. Hunters refer to the opening of Grouse season in the UK as “The Glorious 12th” (of August) and the date has been the start of grouse season since the Game Act was passed in 1831.
Galliformes go waaaay back, 56 million years and more (don’t you love this fossil?)
Palaeortyx skeleton, Muséum national d'histoire naturelle, Paris
I think most of us think of grouse as the prey of the leisure-hunting class in so many British novels and Hollywood films.
The hunt begins with dozens of ‘grouse beaters’ crashing about the brush to frighten the poor birds into taking flight so they can be shot by sportsman in tweedy Plus-fours (at least that’s what they wear in 40’s Hollywood B & W hunting parties). Dining on pheasant and quail and grouse served from giant silver domed dishes from sideboards the size of airplane runways has come to represent a certain lifestyle of upper-class British society that is fast disappearing. I just had to try some.
What started all this grousing??? Madeira!
Mannie Berk by C. M. Glover for The New York Times
Those of you who have read my blog for a while know that Mannie Berk at The Rare Wine Company has been my Madeira Genie, granting my wish to cook with antique wines (as was done in centuries past when they were an indispensable ingredient for legendary chefs like Carême). In an exchange of emails I told him I dreamed to try a pre-Civil War Madeira. He told me he had an 1850 (that had been in cask for 100 years before it was bottled in the 1960’s or 70’s). I fell on the floor when a small sample arrived in the post. When I tasted it, I heard supernal music (think Caruso and Ancona as their voices join and rise heavenward in the Pearl Fisher Duet (LISTEN HERE ) — close your eyes as you listen to the century old recording, the pellucid voices rising through a mist of sound — time stops for a moment— are you with me?? YES, THAT GOOD).
To make a dish with this celestial elixir I had to find something that could complement the wine’s great age and ethereal beauty.
I once had a pheasant in England that had been hung until it dropped from its hook. The flavor was dark and mysterious as if legend and ancient moors and forests had come together to cast a spell over its succulent flesh.
I thought that grouse, redolent of heather, might have some of that quality and would be a perfect foil to the Madeira. A foie gras sauce with that Madeira would be the alpha and omega.
My Grouse comes from Scotland via the lovely people at D’Artagnan. I have come to rely on them for game birds and they are my Jersey neighbors.
D'Artagnan was founded by Ariane Daugin, the daughter of Andre Daugin who ran Gascony’s famous Hotel de France in Auch. They provided the grouse and the ducks for the stock as well as the foie gras for the sauce. We could say this meal is a D’Artagnan production!
Since it was game, I wrote to the Game Guru Hank at Honest Food (2010 James Beard Best Blog Finalist btw, KUDOS!!!!!) He recommended brining. He also reminded me these are lean mean little flying machines that need help in the fat department so they don’t dry out in the cooking process. The wonderful cookbook author and teacher Madeline Kamman had a genius idea about frozen nut oil under the skin that her great-Grandmother had used with guinea hens that I decided to use on my grouse. I went to soooo many UK game sites to check with the masters of the moors for their suggestions about preparing my little treasures. In the end the great chefs Pierre Koffman and Eric Chavot had great ideas for the cooking grouse. What I ended up with was my distillation of many wonderful recipes with some ideas of my own that I hope you will enjoy. Although it sounds daunting, it is really quite simple and could be used on cornish hen if you can’t manage a grouse (although you should!) with an increase in cooking time.
Early 19th C. English Plate
Grouse with a Foie Gras and Madeira Sauce & Blackberry Compote for 2
Brine for the grouse from Honest food
1/4 cup salt
4 cups water
2 bay leaves
1 tablespoon crushed juniper berries
1 rosemary sprig
Boil and cool and brine the birds for 12 hours. Enough for 2 small birds
Grouse ( I can see this recipe with Cornish hen or pheasant too!)
2 Scottish grouse from D'Artagnan ( Buy them HERE )
1 T hazelnut oil
1 anchovy, mashed
1 t grated shallot
½ t fresh thyme
1 T foie gras
¼ t pepper
3 t. heather honey
1 T vegetable oil
Sauce (this can be enough for 2 but it is so good you may want to double it)
2 T Butter
sprig of thyme
2 shallots, minced
1/3 c demi glace (duck or chicken)
1 T foie gras (D'Artagnan brilliantly sells frozen pieces that can be broken off and used for sooo many things!!!)
2 t. Boston Bual Madeira (I used that 1850 Verdelho)
Take 1 T hazelnut oil and grated shallot, anchovy, thyme, pepper and 1 T foie gras and 1 t heather honey and blend. Put in the Freezer for 30 minutes or until firm.
Remove the grouse from the brine and pat dry. Let stand 15 minutes while heating the oven to 400º as you insert the semi-solid oil under the breast and leg (this is tough to do—they are little birds) of the grouse. Put the remainder in the cavity with 2 t of heather honey. Add salt and pepper over all.
Heat the oil in a large ovenproof frying pan over a medium-high heat. Add the grouse and fry for 3-4 minutes, turning regularly, until the birds are browned on all sides. If you lose any of the oil from the bird as you do this… spoon it back in before you put it into the oven.
Arrange each grouse so that it is resting on one breast.
Transfer to the oven for 3-4 minutes, then turn the birds onto their other breast and roast for a further 3 minutes. Turn the grouse onto their backs and roast for 4 more minutes.
Remove the pan from the oven. Remove the grouse from the pan, place on a warm plate and cover loosely with foil. Set aside to rest in a warm place for 10 minutes.
Add 2 T butter to the skillet in which the grouse cooked and add the shallots and thyme. Cover and cook for 2 minutes. Add duck Demi Glace. Add the Foie Gras one teaspoon at a time, whisking each addition thoroughly into the demi glace to achieve a silky smooth consistency, strain. Add 2 T Madeira just before serving.
Plate the grouse, nap with pan sauce and blackeberries.
This can be served with:
Tom Kitchin Celeriac Puree From Great British Menu
1 celeriac, peeled, finely chopped
milk, double cream to cover celeriac
2 t fresh horseradish
Place the celeriac into a small pan, cover with equal amounts of milk and cream and cook until soft. Once soft, drain, discarding the milk and cream. Purée using a hand-blender until smooth. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste. Add horseradish.
Also great with this is steamed sugar snaps and baked beets tossed with 1 T verjus or sherry vinegar and 1 T hazelnut oil
Say hello to Petunia!
Thanks to Gollum for Foodie Friday
This recipe is on D'Artagnan's Facebook page