If you are not lucky enough to live on your own landed country estate you may not know that today, the twelfth of August or the ‘ Glorious Twelfth ‘ is the start of the shooting season in the United Kingdom. Well it is for the unfortunate Red Grouse and to a much lesser extent the Ptarmigan, as enshrined by the Game Act of 1831. If you do own, work on or visit a game shoot, this is one of the busiest and most lucrative days of the season, with large amounts of game being bagged or shot. A grouse moor is valued by the number of brace ( a pair of grouse shot ) and the prices can reach into the tens of millions of pounds. Why ? Well there are plenty of people prepared to pay a lot of money to dress up in tweeds and yield a shotgun.
I take a sanguine approach to life and expect the whole shebang is jolly good fun but what I know is that correctly prepared grouse is tender and delicate but still rich and fragrant and well worth the cost ( at least for a brace ). Traditionally there is a race between many of London’s grand hotels and establishment gentleman’s clubs to get the first birds shot, cleaned up, roast and on to the table. This recipe combines the elements of a classic roast game bird garnished with watercress, toasted breadcrumbs and bread sauce and includes some classic techniques that you can transfer to other recipes. You can ask your friendly butcher or game supplier to pluck and draw your birds for you if you have not bought them back straight from the moor.
Not all game have the same start to their open seasons – most begin on September 1, with October 1 for Woodcock and Pheasant.
Roast Grouse Serves 2
2 fresh young Grouse
50 gr softened Butter
4 rashers of Streaky Bacon
200 gr freshly prepared Mirepoix*
150 ml good quality Madeira fortified wine
1 tablespoon of Redcurrant Jelly
Sea Salt and freshly ground Black Pepper
1 bunch of watercress, thoroughly washed
*For the mirepoix peeled and finely dice one onion, two medium carrots and one stick of celery, sauté in a little good butter until soft add 2 crushed peppercorns a sprig of thyme , parsley with root if possibly and a bay leaf. Mirepoix is used as a base for many classic sauces such as demi glace and a good ragout.
for the bread sauce
1 small Onion, peeled
1 Bay Leaf
250 ml Milk
1 tablespoon Butter
110 gr stale White Bread, crusts removed, cut into small cubes
Nutmeg to taste
for the game crumbs
6 tablespoons Butter
2 handfuls fresh White Breadcrumbs
1 tablespoon Dry Sherry
2 tablespoon freshly chopped Parsley
Heat the oven to 200C/ 400F/ Gas Mark 6. Prepare the grouse by washing and thoroughly drying each bird with paper towelling. Liberally season the cavities with plenty of salt and pepper and place a teaspoon of butter and redcurrant jelly in side. Rub a good teaspoon of soft butter on each breast, then using the back of a cooks knife stretch out the bacon on a chopping board. Wrap each bird carefully with two pieces of bacon. Put both birds in a small roasting tin and place in the centre of the oven for 18-25 minutes: Eighteen minutes for young birds and twenty five minutes for larger ones. After the first ten minutes of cooking add the mirepoix to the roasting pan.
Remove from the oven when done and tip any juices from the body cavity of each bird back into the tin before transferring the grouse to a warmed serving platter. The legs should be just cooked (please don’t be alarmed by their faint bloodiness — this is how they should be eaten) and the birds perfectly pink at the breastbone.
Put the roasting tin over a medium heat on the stove and add the Madeira. Bring to a vigorous boil, scraping to lift the sediment from the bottom of the pan, and reduce the liquid by a third. Check the seasoning. Melt in the remaining redcurrant jelly. Strain into a small pan, return to the heat and finish by whisking in the remaining butter until glossy.
For the bread sauce, stud the peeled onion with the cloves and bay leaf , this is technically called a cloute. Place it in a small saucepan with the milk and bring to a very gentle simmer over a low heat. Simmer for about 10 minutes, to allow the flavours to infuse the milk, taking care not to let the milk boil over. You can do this two hours before roasting and leave to steep. Strain the milk through a sieve into a clean pan and return to the heat, discarding the onion. Stir the butter into the milk then remove from the heat. Whisk the bread into the hot milk until it forms a smooth sauce. Season to taste with salt, white pepper and freshly grated nutmeg. To prevent a skin forming, cover the sauce with a piece of buttered greaseproof paper until ready to serve, this is called a cartouche.
For the game crumbs, melt the butter in a heavy bottomed frying pan over a medium heat. Tip in the breadcrumbs and fry gently for about 5 minutes, or until crisp and golden brown. Stirring to prevent burning. Pour in the sherry stirring constantly and cook until all the liquid has evaporated. Add the parsley and season with salt and black pepper.
Place the grouse on two warm plates and garnish with breadcrumbs and watercress. Pour over a little of the pan gravy and serve with the remaining juices and the bread sauce served on the side.