Grouse about the house…

Mister North and I are known to like a bit of game, so it was no surprise that when this year’s season got under way, he was straight down to Stansfields in Todmorden Market to see if there was any grouse on the horizon. We were both pleased as punch when a brace of these beautiful birds materialised…

Luckily Mister North had already planned a visit to sunny London and brought his little friends with him for a slap up Sunday dinner at mine. We decided this most British of birds needed a traditional touch and so we decided to accompany it with bread sauce, along with some of the home grown vegetables from my garden. It also seemed like a good idea to serve some seasonal mushrooms with this autumnal feast.

This however was easier said than done. Mister North didn’t spot any fab fungi in Tod before he travelled down and we also drew a blank at Brixton Farmers’ Market or any of supermarkets. Travelling into town anyway, we made a beeline to Fortnum and Mason, delighted to have an excuse to visit the basement apart from simply ooohing and aahhing as normal, but were disappointed to see that they only had a few tatty, gritty looking specimens available. At over twenty quid a kilo, we declined to part with serious cash for them and decided to try Whole Foods instead. Fourth time lucky, we got some beautiful looking shiitake and shimeji, managed to avoid the myriad other temptations available and headed off to Baozi Inn for some dumplings…

Back at mine a while later, Operation Grouse got into full swing when I was able to dig up my first crop of beetroot and Shetland Blue potatoes to go with it. I was tickled pink (pun intended) with my lovely purple vegetables and couldn’t wait to try them out. I decided to boil these floury spuds and roast the beetroot, reserving the leaves to make pesto with some cobnuts.

We had more difficulty deciding how to cook the grouse itself. Worried that it would be tough and dry even with the bacon we planned to wrap it in if we simply roasted it, we decided to go for the try and tested method of using a trivet of vegetables to allow the birds to both steam and roast at the same time. We went for some onions and apples as the base, planning to add some black pudding, redcurrant jelly and a splash of water in towards the end to create a truly amazing gravy.

Firstly we season and then sealed the birds all over. left them to cool for a few minutes and then wrapped their bodies in strips of bacon with their wee legs poking up and accessorised with tinfoil bootees to prevent their remaining feathers from getting singed. We popped them in a 180° oven for about 45 minutes and turned our attention to the side dishes. Since we’re both Irish we needed a bit of help with how to make bread sauce as it just isn’t at all traditional back home, but Nigella helped us out with her aromatic sounding recipe and we got our milk infusing as a multitude of beautiful aromas mingled in the air.

About 15 minutes before the grouse was completely ready, we opened it up to add in the gravy ingredients and check that there was enough liquid that everything was steaming along nicely. Everything went in with a bit of extra seasoning and it went back in a slightly lower oven so the beetroot didn’t burn. We were frankly so transfixed by the potatoes in the pan that we could quite easily have forgotten everything else. Perfectly purple when raw, the skins gleaming like an aubergine, they really do turn blue as you cook them, with the water becoming as blue as a child’s painting. They were mesmirisingly pretty…

Tearing ourself away, we took the now cooked grouse out of the oven and allowed them to rest while we finished off the bread sauce and the mushrooms and created the most exceptional looking gravy going. We forgot to do anything green to go on the plate, but with food like this, who cares?

The grouse was incredibly flavoursome, a rich and slightly sweet meat that no doubt comes from the heather it lives on. It was gamey without being overpowering, but we did have a bit of difficulty eating them as they are a well muscled bird with plenty of sinews and for some reason I don’t own any steak knives. It wasn’t long before we went caveman and used hands and teeth to strip the surprisingly meaty little birds completely clean. I bet they don’t let you do that at Rules!

The only disappointment with the grouse was when I teamed a juicy hunk of breast meat with a dollop of bread sauce and was astounded the vileness of the accompaniment. I cannot believe anyone eats this slop willingly. Simultaneously loaded with cloves and yet bland at the same time, the thick texture was cloying and repulsive on my tongue. One mouthful was more than enough and I turned my attention to the amazing gravy instead. Rich and smooth with black pudding, the sweetness of the redcurrant jelly and the tartness of the apple stopped it being too overpowering, but I couldn’t stop myself soaking up mouthfuls of it with both the meat and the floury flavoursome potatoes being excellent vehicles for gravy!

The mushrooms added some umaminess and an certain autumnal feel that complimented the grouse beautifully. The beetroot was (if I do say so myself) the best I’ve ever eaten, with a soft sweetness to it rather than the usual grumpy earthiness that can dominate. The potatoes tasted as good as they looked and ultimately the meal was a stunner. The only things that could have improved it was throwing the bread sauce in the bin…

I’ll definitely be investing in a set of steak knives for next year and resting the grouse a little bit longer than this time to make it easier to eat, because I enjoyed this so much I’d like to make grouse an autumal tradition in future!

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