After another wet and windy August, we can at least take pleasure in the simple things, such as a home-cooked grouse.
The roast grouse
For this particular outing, I used streaky-bacon rashers to wrap the grouse while they cooked, then lifted them off halfway through so that the bird’s skin could burnish in the oven. Normally, I veer away from doing this, but just happened to have some very good rashers in the fridge, so popped them on. Feel free to do this or not.
- 2 oven-ready grouse
- 2 wooden cocktail sticks
- About 50g butter, softened to room temperature
- Salt and pepper
Tether the bird’s legs by skewering a wooden cocktail stick through the thinnest part of each leg. Then, while holding them tightly together, force the stick down into a thigh to secure. This neat trick saves trussing – unless, of course, your purchased bird is already neat and tied by the dealer.
Pre-heat the oven to 220˚C/425˚F/gas mark 7. Smear a little of the given butter onto the base of a solid, deep-sided frying pan or similar stove-top dish that will also survive the heat from a hot oven. Lay the two grouse upon the butter, season them and then rub the soft butter all over their breasts and legs. Slide them onto the top shelf of the oven and roast for 7 minutes.
Remove, baste generously with the by now frothing butter and return to the oven. Roast for another 5 minutes or so, baste for the last time and take them out for good.
Transfer the grouse to a plate (keeping their buttery juices in the pan), loosely cover with foil and leave to rest. Switch off the oven and leave the door ajar; once the oven’s heat has considerably waned, transfer the birds there to keep warm.
In this state, the grouse are ready to be served. I used to think that some sort of gravy or similar was necessary, but now deem this not to be so – when correctly roasted and rested, the birds will exude their own juices onto the plate as you eat them.
The only other savoury accompaniments needed – and, for me, essential – are copious amounts of bread sauce and game crumbs. Some sprightly sprigs of well-washed watercress are the only other garnish one truly needs, here.
The bread sauce
- 250ml milk
- 30g butter
- 4 cloves
- 1 crumbled bay leaf
- A good pinch of salt
- Freshly ground white pepper
- Half a small onion, peeled and finely chopped
- 2tbspn double cream
- 75g–100g fresh white breadcrumbs
- A little freshly grated nutmeg (optional)
Heat together the first seven ingredients until bubbling just under a simmer. Leave like this for a couple of minutes, then cover and leave to infuse. Strain the milk through a fine sieve into a clean pan and press down on the solids using a small ladle to extract all the flavours.
Reheat gently with the cream until hot, but do not boil. Whisk in the breadcrumbs along with a little nutmeg (if using) and leave for a few moments, both to allow the crumbs to swell and also to see if you might need to add more – I like a sloppy texture, but not really pourable.
Check for seasoning, decant into a bowl, cover with a plate and keep warm over a pan of hot water until needed.
The game crumbs
- A slice of butter
- 75g fresh white breadcrumbs
- 50ml medium-dry sherry (or Madeira)
- A little salt and pepper, if necessary
Gently reheat the pan of grouse juices over a medium flame and add to it the small slice of fresh butter. Add the breadcrumbs and fry gently until all the butter has been soaked up. Allow to lightly colour for a few minutes and then stir in the sherry. You’ll instantly notice that the mixture becomes soggy from the liquid – fret not.
Turn the heat down to very low and, stirring fairly constantly with a wooden spoon, allow these soggy lumps to collect together. In time – about 15–20 minutes or so – these will break up into crumbs once more and become deliciously crisp, the sherry having been driven off by evaporation and its flavour left behind, together with the butter that, in turn, has coloured the crumbs a gorgeous nut-brown.
Taste and season only if necessary, then tip onto a plate lined with kitchen towel to soak up excess fat. Put to one side and allow to desiccate completely, then tip into a pretty bowl until ready to serve; they don’t need to be hot.
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