Hot Smoked Grouse

This is almost certainly the best way to cook grouse.

So a while back I wrote about how to cook grouse best. I still stand by this, almost. For really special occasions, I think I may have found something better.

It all started at a party. Following a conversation with a friend about making smoked salmon, he asked “which foods can you smoke?” To which the answer is almost anything. (A while back, inspired by the North Fork Table & Inn in Long Island, I smoked some onions. Results were good, not as good as theirs! North Fork: Recipe please?)

His response was “I think smoked grouse would be really good,” so we talked, and one thing led to another and a date was set.

The first thing to do was take the breasts and legs of the grouse we were going to smoke. Easy. We didn’t use the legs that day, though there’s another interesting plan to make BBQ grouse legs (in the style of your traditional American ‘wings’). A story for another time.

Following that, we seasoned and seared the grouse to keep moisture in and start the cooking process. Next, we got the hot smoker going and put the grouse breasts in, hot smoking them over hay for c. 20 minutes. Because the smoker wasn’t getting as hot as we’d hoped (it was a windy day, not good for gas fired smoker outside) after 20 minutes, when we felt the grouse had enough smokey flavour we took them out and finished them off in a hot oven for 5 minutes. (Being hot smoked, they need to be cooked through – though still pink!).

The result was far better than anything we’d expected, and is certainly something we’ll try again. As I was leaving with my share of grouse, Robbie ran out with a chopping board and a huge grin and forced me to try some before I left. I drove home very smug!

Next time: cold smoked grouse…

Spiced Apple Panna Cotta Recipe

At this time of year when there are heaps of apples around, unhealthy Apple Crumble get’s a bit boring and it’s good to diversify, and this one looks impressive and tastes great. It’s best made with fresh apples, pressed at home. If you have a juicer or an apple press, start by making some apple juice. It’s good to do more than you need and make a batch of cider or something similar while you’re at it! (NB unless pasteurized – i.e. boiled -, fresh apples juice needs to be kept in the fridge and used within c. 2 weeks or it may start to ferment).

Spiced Apple Panna cotta Recipe

1 litre apple juice

Sugar to taste (depending on how sweet your apple juice is. 50-100g)

600ml cream

1 tbsp cinnamon

1/2 nutmeg, grated

1 vanilla pod

7 sheets leaf gelatin

A note on gelatin: different brands vary in their ability to set liquids. Find a widely available brand and try to stick to it. Panna cotta should be set, but only just. The test of a good panna cotta is that it should hold its shape, but if you put a straw through the top you should be able to suck the panna cotta up through the straw.

Put the apple juice and the sugar in a large pan and bring to the boil. While the juice is heating, slice a vanilla pod in half lengthwise going all the way down. Using the back of your knife, with the halved pod splayed open on the board like an un-zipped sleeping bag (seeds facing up), remove the seeds out of the pod by scraping the knife all the way up the length of the pod. Add the seeds to the juice with the empty pods. Add the cinnamon, nutmeg and start to ‘bloom’ the gelatin in cold water (takes about 5 mins).

When the gelatin has softened and all sugar has dissolved in the juice, take the juice off the heat and allow to cool for 30 seconds then add the gelatin, stirring.

Warm the cream to body temperature (to prevent it curdling – cold cream added to hot liquid may curdle) then add to the juice. Stir the mixture well and check it for taste, adding anything if necessary. Pour through a sieve into a large jug before dividing equally into moulds. or ramekins to go into the fridge until set – 6-8 hours.

Duck Confit

This is really just a photo, without much description. Tonight’s dinner, it looked too good not to photograph. Hence dinner was rather late, and by the time I ate it the duck was almost cold. But it still tasted great.

Duck Confit is so good, and so easy. It only requires a bit of planning and some good stock, oil or fat. It takes a long time though, so it’s not a late dinner option. It’s best if you know the day before that you’re going to have duck confit. I’ve been cooking with an Aga lately, and for that it’s ideal. Just put the duck in the top left and forget about it for hours.

For an interesting twist, try cooking it in peanut butter, topped with a touch of olive oil. There’s heaps of natural oil in peanut butter, which comes out as it cooks, making the skin so lovely and crisp. Peanut butter is also rather salty, which is great for confit. It also adds some peanut flavour to the duck, giving a slight sate taste to the meat.

Duck Confit with crispy-crispy skin, new potatoes, sprouts, red wine jus.

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Grouse

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Grouse is something I love to cook. For one thing (not that we’re ever concerned) it’s cholesterol free. When I eat grouse, I can feel almost instantly feel the rejuvenation. I relish the next appointment with the doctor, his congratulations about my health prospects and my gloating to friends about the-temple-that-is my-body. Just because I ate grouse. My dentist does not recommend it so much, however, as it sometimes does contain lead shot.

The main things for me, however, is that in terms of provenance, you couldn’t get much better. Every grouse that finds its way onto a plate has lived an entirely wild life, untouched by human hand.  Eating grouse is the biproduct of a traditional way of life, which happens to be a huge boost to the UK economy and a great source of rural employment. Yes, I’m talking about field sports. “Haters gonna hate” and all that, but if you really disagree with people eating and shooting grouse, think about where those ‘value’ sausages you buy in the supermarket come from. In terms of quality of life, the grouse beats the ‘factory’ pig. If only pigs coud fly, perhaps they’d enjoy a higher calling as the prey of the sporting enthusiast…

The flavour of grouse also presents a fantastic opportunity because of its strength and gaminess. Therefore it can stand up to strong flavoured accompaniments and full bodied wines.  However this is something rarely exploited. The norm for grouse is that it is served roasted on the bone, with its predetermined trimmings, not a far cry away from your Christmas Turkey.

The problem I have with this, however, is the on the bone aspect. The struggle I have trying to elegantly carve a grouse on my plate is immense. More often than not the bird seems to resist, kicking a potato into my neighbours lap.

Moody day on the moor


How I like to cook grouse:

For me, it’s best taken off the bone. This takes away the hassle of hacking away at your dinner:
• Take the fillets off the breast bone (with the skin). Bring them to room temperature, season them and oil the skin slightly.
• Heat a lightly oiled pan to smoking point and add the grouse breasts, skin side down. Hold each breast down so that the skin is seared for c.30 seconds to prevent it from shrinking.
• Cook for 2 minutes or so before turning and cooking for another minute.
• Salt the skins and place in the oven on a high heat for 3-5 minutes, skin-side up.
• Leave to stand at room temperature for 1 minute before serving.

Legs:
The legs are easier. Just season well and a slug of oil. Cook in the oven under a medium heat for c. 10-12 minutes, shaking frequently to prevent them from sticking.

This should then be served with (quite a sweet) rich jus. Use redcurrant jelly or something similar to sweeten the jus if you like, as this will go well with the richness of the meat.

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