Before I cooked them:
On Friday, I whizz up to the farmshop for sausages, and find grouse in the outside cabinet. Hellishly expensive, and quite obviously not with the stomach-filling capacities of sixteen Lincolnshire’s. As if in a dream (the one where I’m dressed in tweed, and my husband’s a laird with muscled knees), I put them on the counter.
I ask Mark the butcher how to cook them, and he looks sheepish.
‘Not had them?’
‘No,’ he says. ‘Well…no. Roast them, maybe?’
I take them home and put them in the fridge; they look incongruous next to the Frubes, the cucumber heels and the revolting plastic ham my eldest daughter adores. They look like a supper that might be destined for people other than the Lee’s.
It’s Saturday night now, the Night of the Grouse. But I’m whey-faced, feeble. Knackered. My lovely, lovely husband trundles off to collect an Indian, and feeds me chunks of sag aloo.
So now it’s Sunday, and the Grouse must be eaten. I apply myself to Google, to find out how to do them. I don’t learn an awful lot – the recipes I find involve breasts, rather than whole birds, or else basically, just roast them, because their favour needs no messing. And add some game chips and bread sauce.
These cooks and chefs and foodie types have obviously never had to feed two fussy daughters and a ravenous Roast-Dinner expecting husband.
Crisps ain’t gonna cut it.
Right. I keep reading that the meat can be very dry, owing to the lack of fat in the bird, and that the taste is very gamey. Every recipe I read uses a bacon carapace during cooking, and then advises a quick pan de-glaze job and making a thin jus. Oh God. I’m doing mine with mashed potato – can you imagine their faces on seeing jus? The Bisto would be out of the cupboard before I’d even sat down.
So anyway…I’m off.
How I Cooked Them
Two fat chicken legs (with skin)
Hot beef stock
Smoked bacon (back, because I have no streaky)
Hot water (as in, from a kettle)
Salt and pepper
Method (not including veg instructions)
Oven on at 180, chicken legs in a pot roast jobbie that would fit them and the grouse. I slice a garlic clove and put the shards under the skin of the chicken. Slosh in few slugs of vermouth, and hot water up to half an inch of so. Five juniper berries, because I love them . Tin foil over jobbie; oven.
Grouse inspected for anything nasty (feathers, shot, bits of guts…not all our game meat comes from a butcher, so habit). Grouse turned upside down and its back draped in bacon (did not season – our bacon quite salty).
Chicken legs extracted from oven after 15min. Grouse tucked in between, breast-side down, bacon upper-most, foil back on. Back in oven for 30 minutes. Foil taken off towards last 10 min of cooking.
Out of oven, whole lot transferred to hot plate to rest for 10 min whilst gravy made. Liquid from pan poured off into cup, leaving two or three table spoons. One table spoon flour into the pan, scrubbed altogether with wooden spoon. Wait until pan really quite bloody hot. Splash in hot beef stock. Stir until flour has made it all into a gravy. Add 1 teaspoon of cranberry and check seasoning. Pour into hot gravy boat.
Put bacon from birds in a frying pan with olive oil, when hot again, put in fine beans and mini sweetcorns (again, bending to will of obstinate daughter). Stir fry.
Serve chicken onto children’s plates, put Grouse on a wooden chopping board to be carved at table between me and him.
Put beans, mini sweetcorns and huge Mash Mountain in hot serving bowl, take to the table with chopping board of grouse.
Oh my Lord. Smells incredible. Eat it.
And What We Thought About It
‘Mummy it tastes like red salmon’
‘What? It’s a bird.’
‘Red salmon. The one you do with the yellow sauce.’
Bloody weird child.
Stephen has given me the breast of the smaller grouse, and from my first mouthful, I know I won’t manage both fillets. The meat is incredibly dense, and close textured. I’ve cooked them medium rare, and the pinker bits melt in my mouth, but the whole thing reminds me of metal, like sucking a copper coin. I’m not sure I like it yet, but I want to like it, the way I used to want to like whisky, and sweetbreads (I’ve never made it with the sweetbreads).
The gravy is incredible – the nicest we’ve ever made with no red wine involved.
Stephen likes the grouse, but not as much as a steak, and we both agree that we’d probably like it more processed, with different flavours. Sliced thinly in a winter salad say, with pomegranate seeds, or in a game pie, the hot-and-sloppy sort, with a thick crust.
I poke at the carcasses thoughtfully. Stock. Grouse soup. With sour dough and cheddar as cheese-on-toast.