|1 little bird that's already given us one meal (although not at the time this picture was taken, obviously), and is now about to give us two more...|
At the end of my last post (or rather about three paragraphs back from the end) I’d left a couple of grouse breasts marinading in the fridge. No doubt you’re on tenterhooks to find out what happened to them next… No? Oh. Well here goes anyway.
Just to remind you, the grouse breasts had been filleted from the bird’s carcass and put in a Tupperware container with the zest and juice of one orange, salt, pepper and a splash of olive oil. I’d also pared off a couple of strips of the outer peel of the orange, that I’d then further sliced into fine matchsticks, but these were as much for the presentation of the finished dish as part of the marinade.
You may think grouse breasts are a bit esoteric, or too fiddly to remove from the carcass to be worthwhile, or simply a waste of a whole roasted bird; but if you are lucky enough to have a good local butcher it really should be something they’d have readily available from late August to Mid December, and, in a good year at least, one grouse really shouldn’t be prohibitively expensive for a special seasonal treat. And this one grouse, that cost me a solitary fiver, provided not one, but several meals for two (a single grouse breast is undoubtedly small for a main course, but the flavour is so full a little goes a long way). And it isn’t actually that fiddly at all, although if your butcher really is a good one, and you maintain a good relationship with him (as it would be well worth making every effort to), then I’m sure he’d remove the breasts from the carcass for you anyway if you asked nicely (but do be sure to keep the carcass for the rest of the meat on it, and for stock, of course).
If, however, you are not fortunate enough to have a proper local butcher, or if you really can’t be convinced that stripping the breasts from a grouse isn’t just a waste of a whole roast bird (and I wouldn’t necessarily put up much of an argument there), then this is also a good way with a duck breast, readily available, neatly packaged into pairs from any decent supermarket.
Anyway, the grouse breasts, in their marinade, were put in the fridge on the Tuesday, while I made a stock from the carcass and a couple of pigeon carcasses from the freezer, and then a delicious pasta sauce with that stock and the rest of the shredded grouse meat pulled from the carcass before going in the stock pot. I’d intended the breasts for dinner the following night but circumstance resulted in us not having them until the evening after, meaning they’d marinated for a good 54 hours or so by the time I came to cook them. This is excessive, although it did them no harm. Overnight is good, but 3-4 hours would do fine (although in that case I would recommend keeping them out of the fridge).
Whenever you are ready to cook your breasts, it really couldn’t be simpler. Heat a frying pan, till good and hot, then just remove your grouse breasts from their marinade (if they’ve been in the fridge do try and remember to take them out a good hour or so ahead, so they’re up to room temperature in time for cooking) and sear them for no more than a couple of minutes on each side (basically treat it like frying steak).
Take the breasts from the pan and set aside to rest for 5 minutes. While that’s happening, pour the left over marinade into the pan, perhaps with an extra splash of wine – or sherry or marsala if you have either of them to handy, brandy even – and acouple of tablespoons of stock, and reduce a little to make a richly flavoured, glistening sauce.
If doing this dish with duck breasts, that are significantly bigger and, crucially, thicker than those of grouse, I’d sear the breasts then put the pan in an oven, heated to around 200, to roast for just 10 minutes – maybe as much as 15 if they are particularly big and thick and/or you like your duck better done than pink.
If you’re going to have the oven on anyway, you may as well roast up some potatoes, and maybe parsnips and carrots (always good with anything gamey, particularly if you allow them to start to caramelize) to serve alongside. As I cooked my grouse entirely in the pan, I just served them up with sautéed potatoes and the rest of our fabulous, foraged winter chanterelles, just quickly fried up in olive oil with a bit of garlic and parsley.
It was a light meal, but so full of flavour it left neither of us unsatisfied for a week night dinner. If you wanted to make it more substantial, then of course you can always do a grouse per person, or use duck breasts. Or stick with one grouse, and make a starter – a soup from the stock would be the obvious solution, and one that would maintain the theme of eating economically, if not parsimoniously, from what would generally be regarded as ‘luxury’ ingredients.
We skipped the starter on this occasion, so had plenty of stock left over for making a risotto the following evening, with a handful of dried ceps (or more likely some other bolete, to be honest) from one of the jars we still have left from last autumn’s bumper mushroom harvest.