Grouse is packed so full of flavour that you don't want to smother it, so nothing beats serving it rare with a simple salad, advises Cai ap Bryn. Serves two.
I must admit although I thoroughly enjoy eating and cooking grouse I have never had the privilege to shoot one (here in the UK anyway) on a traditional driven grouse shoot. The only time I have ever shot grouse was actually in Finland, However it was not red grouse but black grouse, a species that has been having a tough time in Britain.
Last November I set off to Finland in pursuit of moose and black grouse. Believe it or not, the moose was the easiest of the two. The elusive black grouse had us chasing them for two days.
First we didn’t use a shotgun, we used a centrefire rifle. The bullet was a full metal jacket 6.5 x 55 – yes, that’s correct a centre fire rifle on a bird. I, too, thought this was some kind of prank but it turned out it wasn’t and it was a surreal experience. Not only that but these birds are normally shot up a tree, above the horizon.
I initially thought this would be relatively simple – I mean I have shot birds below ten meters with my air rifle, so surely a grouse with a rifle would be a doddle. How wrong I was. These birds have amazing eyesight and are extremely wary – perhaps they are used to being hunted but we struggled to get nearer than 150m.
After a few failed attempts and almost giving up entirely, we managed to get in position behind a large boulder nestled among pines and shot a grouse up an 80ft tree at a distance of around 240m. The bullet of course passes straight through and continues into the unknown, which is rather uncomfortable. We were in a wilderness where the nearest houses were more than 5km away, but it is still completely against everything you are taught here in the UK.
The red grouse is an iconic moorland bird that’s prominent in our uplands and highlands – in Wales, northern England and Scotland the grouse can be seen in its natural habitat. It is truly beautiful and wild, and great care is taken to make sure these birds are managed sustainably, with feeding, watering and predation controls by hardworking keepers. Grouse, of course, are not reared like pheasants and partridges and the numbers shot depend solely on the health of the population in any given season.
This grouse recipe is something a little different. I love the taste of grouse and didn’t want to hide the flavour with seasoning and heavy marinades – a nice fresh simple carpaccio works exceptionally well. It’s a perfect starter, a healthy afternoon lunch and would make a great festive canapé.
There is no hard and fast rule to this recipe for grouse carpaccio – you can get completely creative and tailor it to your own tastes or you can just keep things simple. My version has taken some time to perfect and I believe the flavours work exceptionally well together.
Recipe for grouse carpaccio with mixed leaf salad
- 2 grouse breasts (skin on or off)
- 8 baby tomatoes
- 50g of feta, cubed
- Sprinkle of pomegranate seeds
- Small radish
- Handful of mixed leaves, I like to use rocket and mixed baby leaves
- Half a spring onion stem
- 1.5 tbsp of raspberry or any berry vinaigrette
Step 1. Lightly season the grouse breasts with salt and cracked black pepper. Heat a skillet pan with a tablespoon of oil; I like to use groundnut but any oilwill do.
Step 2. Once the pan is at its hottest temperature sear the breasts in the pan evenly all over for 20 or so seconds. Remember we are not cooking the breasts, we are just searing the outside. Once done, set the grouse aside for the meat to relax.
Step 3. Lay out the salad items on a serving board or dish – make it as colourful as possible, slicing the radishes and the spring onions thinly so they are spread evenly.
Step 4. After about five minutes’ rest, slice the breasts as thinly as possible and arrange them on the salad.
Step 5. Finish by placing the feta cubes on the dish and drizzle evenly with the berry vinaigrette.
This dish really needs to be assembled as close to service as possible, especially if you are in a warm environment, as it can look tired very quickly. But it won’t last that long as it’s a great appetiser.