Glorious grouse: Mark Hix celebrates the start of the game bird season

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Indy Lifestyle Online

Yes it's that time of year again – this Wednesday is the Glorious Twelfth, and it marks the beginning of the grouse and the game bird season. Sadly, because of the price of grouse, most people think it's a luxury they can't afford. It's worth remembering, however, that if you are prepared to make a little effort, a grouse can stretch quite far.

One bird can easily serve two as a starter or snack in a salad or on toast; and you can make a second meal using the bones for a satisfying, rich soup. I've tried to make the most of the breasts, the carcass and legs in these economical recipes which I hope will give you ideas for ways in which to share this expensive but delicious luxury with your friends and family.

Grouse with fried corn polenta and Scottish girolles

Serves 4

You can serve this dish as a light main course or as a starter, and the legs can be served with it, or used for the soup or the grouse snacks below. I've added some corn to the polenta as it gives a nice sweet-tasting crunch.

2 oven-ready grouse
200-250g girolle mushrooms, cleaned but not washed
60g butter
1tbsp chopped parsley
Salt and freshly ground white pepper

For the polenta

750ml milk
1 clove of garlic, peeled and crushed
1 bay leaf
Pinch of nutmeg
100g quick-cooking polenta
100ml double cream
1 corn on the cob, cooked and corn kernels removed
Olive oil for frying
Flour for dusting

Bring the milk to the boil in a thick-bottomed pan, then add the garlic, bay leaf, salt and pepper and nutmeg. Simmer for 5 minutes then whisk in the polenta. Cook on a low heat for about 10 minutes, stirring every so often so that it doesn't stick to the bottom of the pan. Beware: polenta spits a bit like a volcano as it's cooking. Add the cream and cook for a further 5 minutes. Meanwhile, chop the corn kernels a little and stir into the polenta and leave to cool a little, then line a 12cm sq or similar-sized mould – such as a plastic storage container or small terrine mould or gratin dish – with clingfilm. Spoon the polenta into the mould and smooth the top, fold over the excess clingfilm and leave to cool, then refrigerate overnight.

Preheat the oven to 240C/gas mark 8, season the grouse and rub the breasts with butter. Roast for 15 minutes then remove from the oven and leave to rest for 5 minutes or so.

Meanwhile, cut the polenta into 4 pieces. Heat a non-stick frying pan, lightly flour the polenta slices and then fry them in olive oil for 2-3 minutes on each side until golden.

Keep warm in a low oven.

Heat the butter in a frying pan, add the girolles, season and cook on a medium heat for a few minutes, turning them every so often until tender, then stir in the parsley.

To serve, remove the breasts from the grouse and cut into 4-5 slices, place the polenta on a warmed serving plate and place the grouse on top and spoon over the girolles and butter.

Grouse and crispy parsnip salad

Serves 4

Half a grouse will make a really delicious starter salad, especially with this bramble-infused tangy dressing. On the subject of salad dressings, I have recently created a range of five new British varieties (including blackberry vinegar, honey and mustard; and pickled walnut and rapeseed oil flavours) which are available exclusively at Selfridges Food Hall (selfridges.com), and which are all produced with British regional ingredients.

2 oven-ready grouse
A couple of knobs of butter, softened
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 rashers of streaky bacon, cut into 1cm pieces
2 small clean parsnips
Vegetable or corn oil for frying
A couple of handfuls of small flavoursome salad leaves and herbs

For the dressing

6-8 blackberries, crushed up with 1tbsp good-quality red wine vinegar
2tbsp vegetable or corn oil
2tbsp rapeseed oil

Heat about 8cm of vegetable or corn oil to 180C in a deep-fat fryer or heavy-based saucepan. Top and tail the parsnips, leaving the skin on unless they are very brown. Using a sharp mandolin or vegetable peeler, or even the side of an ordinary grater, slice them as thinly as possible lengthways, rinse well and then pat them dry with a clean tea towel.

Fry the slices in the hot fat, a few at a time, stirring to ensure that they don't stick together. The parsnips will take a while to colour (don't over-colour them) and may appear soft while they are still in the fat. Drain on some kitchen paper and sprinkle with salt and leave them to dry somewhere warm but not hot.

Preheat the oven to 240C/gas mark 8, season the grouse and rub the breasts with butter. Roast for about 15 minutes, keeping them nice and pink then leave to rest. Meanwhile, fry the pieces of bacon in a dry pan for a few minutes until crisp. Whisk all of the ingredients together for the dressing, season then strain through a fine-meshed sieve.

To serve, remove the breasts from the carcass and cut them into 6 or 7 slices. Arrange the leaves on 4 serving plates with the grouse and bacon and spoon over the dressing, then scatter or pile up the parsnip crisps on top.

Grouse snacks

Serves 4

My neighbours Judith and Gerrard always give me a few goodies from their allotment – this month's gift was plums and Harlequin potatoes (a cross between Charlotte's and Pink Fir), along with freshly dug beets. I used them as the basis for these grouse snacks, made with grouse legs that have been simmered in the soup (see following recipe) with the carcass and vegetables.

2-3 plums, halved and stoned
A small piece of root ginger, peeled and grated or finely shredded
tbsp good-quality red wine vinegar
4 large new potatoes, cooked in their skins
A couple of good knobs of butter
The legs from a couple of grouse, cooked and the meat removed and shredded
2tsp olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1tbsp finely shredded raw beetroot
1 spring onion, finely shredded

Cut the plums into thin slices or dice them up if they are large and mix with the ginger and vinegar and leave for 30 minutes. Cut the potatoes into about 1cm-thick slices, melt the butter in a heavy frying pan and cook the potatoes for 3-4 minutes on each side until crisp, then keep warm.

Mix the plums and ginger with the grouse meat and oil; season to taste. To serve, spoon the grouse mixture on to the crisp potato slices and scatter with the beetroot and spring onions.

Grouse broth

Serves 4

It's such a shame to scrape grouse bones into the bin when there is still so much flavour left – a couple of grouse carcasses will make plenty of soup for four people.

For the stock

The carcasses from 2 grouse, chopped into 4 or 5 pieces
1 small onion, peeled, halved and roughly chopped
1 medium carrot, peeled, roughly chopped
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
A couple of sprigs of thyme
4 juniper berries
1tbsp vegetable oil
A good knob of butter
1tbsp flour
1tsp tomato purée
2 litres chicken stock
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

To garnish

2 sticks of celery, peeled if necessary and cut into rough 1cm squares
1 small leek, trimmed, cut into rough 1cm squares and washed
1 medium carrot, peeled and cut into rough 1cm squares
A couple of leaves of green cabbage, cut into rough 1cm squares

Heat the vegetable oil in a heavy-based saucepan and fry the grouse carcasses, onion, carrot, garlic and herbs on a medium heat for 3-4 minutes, stirring every so often until lightly coloured. Add the tomato purée and chicken stock, bring to the boil, season and simmer gently for an hour.

Strain the soup through a fine-meshed sieve into a clean saucepan, reserving the bits of carcass. Add the celery, leek and carrot and simmer for about 15 minutes or until they are tender, then add the cabbage and simmer for another 5-6 minutes. Meanwhile, remove as many bits of meat from the grouse carcass as possible and add to the soup and simmer for a few minutes, re-season if necessary and serve.

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