Grouse is the true king of game birds. The season officially begins on the 12th of August in the U.K. and because it's the first of any game meat to come into season, it's held in high esteem. Each year I look forward to cooking grouse for my loved ones, and I had always followed the same formula: roast the bird, roast some vegetables (including some potatoes) and serve it with some grouse sauce from the freezer saved from the previous year. This annual routine was becoming a bit repetitive and boring, so I decided to do something a little different this time.
Beetroot is a nice accompaniment for grouse because its sweet earthy flavour combines well with the strong flavour of the grouse. The crunchy, slightly sharp-flavoured walnuts really improve the whole experience too. I would usually have served the roasted legs whole on the side, which is fine, but they are small and bitty to eat and not very satisfying. Instead, this time I cooked them as a confit, flaked the meat off the bone, mixed with chopped fried hearts and liver, and served on a little piece of toast. It was truly excellent and this is how I'll be preparing my grouse legs from now on.
A word on the sauce. It's a true chicken and egg situation: you need grouse carcasses to make the sauce, but you need to roast the grouse on the bone before you have any carcasses. You could remove the breasts from the grouse, then make the sauce with the raw carcasses before cooking the breast on its own, but you will end up with a somewhat inferior end result. There is nothing more satisfying than cooking the bird perfectly on the bone and carving it to reveal the soft pink mini fillet inside (this is impossible to achieve unless you cook the grouse whole, on the bone). You could remove the wings and/or the legs from the bird and make sauce with those, but then you can't use them for the confit. The only respectable way to get around this problem is to roast the bird, carve the breasts off, wrapping them in some kitchen foil or a butter paper, then chop up the carcass and make the sauce as quickly as possible whilst keeping the breast meat warm. The serve. With a bit of luck you'll have more than enough sauce and you have a head start for next time.
Buy your grouse 'oven ready', meaning that it has been plucked and had its innards removed, but ideally including the hearts and liver. This is usually how you'll find them in a typical butchers shop. If you have no hearts or liver you can do the toast with the confit leg meat only, which will still be excellent. I would also advise covering the breast meat in bacon and tying with butcher's twine, this will protect the tender meat and prevent it from overcooking, as well as imparting a bit of extra flavour.
Grouse with Beetroot and Walnuts Recipe
for the sauce
- 2 grouse carcasses
- 1 medium carrot, chopped
- 1 stick celery, chopped
- 1 small onion, chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, crushed
- 1 sprig thyme
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 glassful brandy
- 2 glassfuls red wine
- a little beurre manié
- 50 g unsalted butter
- 2 litres chicken stock, (homemade, unsalted)
for the roast grouse
Remove the legs from the grouse and place them in a tray or container just big enough to fit them in a single layer. Sprinkle them with rock salt – the quantity is not vitally important but approximately a 1/2 teaspoon per leg is about right. Put them in the fridge for 6 - 8 hours. Don't leave them too long or they will become too salty.
To make the sauce, cut up the carcasses into approximately 1-inch pieces using scissors or a heavy knife. Place a large, heavy-based pan over a high heat and add about 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil. When the oil is hot, add the chopped carcasses. Cook, stirring occasionally, until lightly caramelised, then add the butter. Allow the butter to foam, then stir. When the butter starts to turn brown and smell sweet, tip everything into a colander placed over a bowl and allow to drain. Place the same pan back on a medium heat and add about 1 tablespoon of the reserved brown butter from the bowl. Add the carrots, celery, onion, garlic, thyme and bay and cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the grouse carcasses back to the pan, then turn the heat up and add the brandy and red wine. Boil until reduced to almost a syrup, then add chicken stock to half-cover. Continue to cook on a high heat, reducing the sauce until almost a syrup, before adding more stock and repeating. Do this at least 3 times. If you run out of chicken stock you can use water.
After the last addition of stock or water, drain the sauce into a separate pan using a fine sieve, then boil to reduce until rich in flavour. Don't over-reduce it, just keep tasting and stop when it tastes good and rich, but not too concentrated. It will likely still be somewhat thin at this point, so whisk in some beurre manié to thicken it, making sure to cook gently for 5 minutes afterwards to cook the flour.
Heat the oven to 110C. Wash the rock salt from the legs under running water, then drain in a colander. Melt the duck fat in a casserole dish or saucepan, then place the legs in, making sure they are completely submerged. Place over a medium heat on the stove until the legs are starting to sizzle in the hot fat, then put in the oven. Cook until the meat is just falling off the bone. It will take approximately 2 hours, but will vary according to the size and tenderness of the legs. Remove from the fat and allow to cook slightly before picking the meat from the bone, being careful to remove any small bones or sharp filaments. Place the flaked confit meat in a container or bowl and set aside for later.
Heat the oven to 180C. Cover the grouse with bacon, making sure to cover the tender breast meat, then secure with butcher's string, being careful not to tie it to tight, as that would prevent the meat from cooking effectively. Place a wide, heavy-based pan over a high heat and allow to get hot. Add a couple of tablespoons of vegetable oil. Season the inside cavity of the grouse with a little salt, then place them in the pan breast side down. Cook for about 5 minutes, turning periodically to ensure the birds are evenly caramelised all over, then sit them in the pan with the breasts facing upwards. Put in the oven for approximately 6 minutes, or until the meat is just soft to the touch when squeezed. Depending on the size of the birds, this may take more or less time. Set a timer for 3 minutes at a time and keep checking them. Once you're confident they are nicely cooked, place them on a resting rack in a warm place. Cover with kitchen foil to help keep them warm.
Once the grouse is resting, Slice the beetroot, and place on an oven tray. Drizzle with a little olive oil, vinegar and salt, and put in the oven for around 10 minutes to warm up. Finely chop the hearts and liver. Finely chop the parsley and garlic. Heat a frying pan over a medium-high heat and add a drizzle of vegetable oil. When the oil is hot, add the hearts and liver along with a pinch of salt and black pepper. Fry until almost crisp, then remove from the heat and add the parsley and garlic. Stir to gently cook the parsley and garlic for about 1 minute, then add the reserved confit meat. Stir to combine, then add 2-3 tablespoons of the grouse sauce. Transfer to a bowl or container and put in a warm place. In the same frying pan, briefly sauté the spinach until just wilted. Cut the bread into smallish pieces, and toast them.
To serve – arrange the spinach on the plate with the slices of beetroot on top. Remove the string and bacon from the grouse then carefully carve the breasts, making sure to keep the little pink mini fillet intact. Remove the skin from the outer part of the breast, then arrange on the plate. Pour some sauce over the breast, then finish with the mini fillet on top. Top the toast with the confit leg mixture and put on the plate next to the grouse. Finally, scatter some crushed walnuts over.