Tim Maddams makes the most of delicious young grouse with a light cure and seasonal ingredients
I get a bit giddy about grouse. I’ve never shot one but I have seen a few drives in action and I’d love one day to walk-up a few. You need to know your young birds from your old or you will find yourself sitting at the dinner table, surrounded by polite, but clearly forced and non-committal murmurings of “It’s quite a strong flavour, isn’t it?” and possibly subtle comments.
A brace of young birds
If you are planning on roasting red grouse ask your gamedealer, butcher or loader to get you a few brace of young birds. Old grouse are delicious but require more hanging, while young reds are best eaten as fresh as possible. I always cook them slowly, with care, and with lots of other strong flavours. Old grouse make excellent pâté, divine stews and some of the best West Indian-style pasties I have ever eaten. I am also a fan of old grouse curry and old grouse noodle soup.
However, I will focus on young grouse here. If you are selecting birds in the feather, look for slightly smaller ones, with soft-ish claws that are a little transparent at the ends, and a tender rear to the skull that is easily compressed with the thumb. Remember that at the beginning of the season the proportion of properly young birds will be at its highest; as the season goes on, even the young birds get older, like the rest of us.
Once you have your young grouse, breast them the same way you would a pigeon. This dish works just as well with pigeon,and even teal, but grouse is hard to beat. Some people say it is a shame not to roast the birds whole, but the light cure added to the meat prevents that here, and you can still roast the carcases to make a stock or broth.
Recipe for young grouse breasts, chanterelles and blackberries
FOR THE GROUSE CURE
- 4 YOUNG GROUSE BREASTS
- 1 TEASPOON SALT
- 1 TEASPOON GRANULATED BROWN SUGAR
- PINCH OF GROUND BLACK PEPPER
- 1 FRESH BAY LEAF, SHREDDED
FOR THE CHANTERELLES AND BLACKBERRIES
- 2 DESSERTSPOONS OF RAPESEED OIL
- 2 HANDFULS OF YELLOW
- CHANTERELLE MUSHROOMS, RATHER THAN THE TRUMPET-SHAPED BROWN WINTER VARIETY
- A GOOD KNOB OF BUTTER
- 2 HANDFULS OF WILD BLACKBERRIES
- ½ A LEMON
- 1 CLOVE OF GARLIC, VERY
- FINELY CHOPPED
- 1 SPRIG OF THYME, LEAVES REMOVED FROM THE STEM AND ROUGHLY CHOPPED
- SMALL BUNCH OF FLATLEAF PARSLEY, PICKED AND WASHED
- Mix all the cure ingredients together and sprinkle evenly over the grouse breasts. Leave to stand for 15 minutes before rinsing them in cold water and patting dry with a clean tea towel. At this stage, you can either save them in the fridge for later or use them immediately.
- Begin by allowing the breasts to come to room temperature, if they have been in the fridge. Then, in a preheated thick-bottomed frying pan, add half the rapeseed oil and place the lightly cured grouse breasts in the pan, turning after two minutes.
- At this point add the mushrooms, having made sure that they are clean, but don’t move them around too much. After another two minutes, remove the grouse breasts, and finish cooking the mushrooms by adding half the butter. Once the mushrooms have had another two minutes place them on a warm plate with the grouse breasts to rest for a few minutes.
- Turn down the heat and add the remaining butter to the pan, throw in the blackberries and then, working quickly, add a squeeze of lemon juice and the garlic and thyme. Season with a bit of salt and pepper to taste, and once the berried have changed colour a little take the pan off the heat. Add any resting juices from the grouse and mushrooms to the pan.
- Slice the grouse breasts thickly and at an angle and place the slices on two small warmed plates. Sprinkle over the mushrooms and a few parsley leaves, add the blackberries and the juices from the pan. Finish the dish with a drizzle of rapeseed oil and more salt and pepper according to taste and serve with some good-quality crusty bread and a robust red wine.