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On the game

on-the-gameCooking and eating game is a relatively recent development for me. I only discovered the joys of pheasant, grouse and partridge after being asked to cook them for other people. You see, where I come from a ‘game bird’ is something altogether less sophisticated than a grouse or pheasant.

I have however come to look forward to the the ‘Glorious 12th’ (the first day of the grouse season) and autumn in general as it signals the time for hearty game stews, roasted wild birds (which unlike most chicken these days are packed with flavour) and rustic terrines. Some years ago when I was gripped by a new-found enthusiasm for all things wild and feathered I made a point of plucking them myself. Whilst it was certainly something of a learning curve, it was probably not the thing to do in the tiny broom-cupboard kitchen of the flat where I was living at the time. As one friend pointed out some time later as he picked a stray feather from his wine glass  – it looked like we had been conducting Voodoo rituals in leafy North London.

Now of course I leave plucking & drawing any game I buy to the professionals and always seek out good oven ready birds. Usually with the 3 most readily available game birds (the aforementioned partridge, pheasant and grouse) they will almost certainly come with their livers and hearts still inside so you must remember to remove them whether you are going to use them or not. I tend not to myself, but we’ll come onto that a little later. Of course for the majority of us city dwellers we are no more likely to go out and shoot our own game than we are to swim the Channel so the question of how long game should be hung is not one that will trouble most of us. I think the thing that puts most people off eating ‘gamey’, but now that you can buy very good pheasant and partridge in good supermarkets they tend to be quite mild in flavour and hung just long enough to tenderise them. I have a theory (and it’s quite possibly just that): pheasant become more versatile later in the season (1st Oct-1st Feb). So, I like to make the most of them around Christmas time by braising them slowly in casseroles and stews, maybe with some fresh chestnuts and pancetta. But earlier in the season I prefer grouse over any other kind of wild fowl. Grouse have a unique flavour created by their staple diet of wild heather on which they exist for most of their lives and no other meat has this unique taste. I have experimented with many different ways of cooking grouse, but time after time I get the best results the time-honoured tradition of roasting them whole and serving with all the traditional accompaniments. I like the slightly old fashioned way of roasting them whole on a thick slice of toast to soak up all the juices and leaving the diners no choice but to finish off the birds with their fingers. As I mentioned earlier, you can now buy very good oven ready birds in quality supermarkets but another fantastic way of getting fresh game delivered right to your door is to order it on line. For all kinds of fresh, in season birds try www.yorkshiregame.co.uk and for more unusual meats as well as seasonal game try the brilliant www.alternativemeats.co.uk. So, game on!

Traditional Roast Grouse – Serves 6

Ingredients

6 oven ready grouse

6 rashers streaky bacon

Salt & pepper

6 slices white bread cut from a sturdy loaf (slightly stale bread is good)

50gm butter

Method:

Preheat the oven to 200°C/Gas mark 6.

Season the birds inside and out.

Smear half the butter over the breast of each bird and top with a rasher of bacon.

Spread the remaining butter over each piece of bread and place a bird upon each slice.

Roast in the oven for exactly 25 minutes & rest for the same amount of time in a warm place.

Serve with water cress, bread sauce and game chips.

N.B. You can fry the livers of the bird and smear them onto the bread before you roast them if you wish – I never do.

Bread Sauce

1 small onion

6 cloves

1 bay leaf

500ml full cream milk

150gm fresh soft white bread crumbs

50gm butter

Salt & pepper

Freshly grated nutmeg

Heat the milk in a sauce pan with the onion, cloves & bay leaf.

Bring to the boil, remove from the heat and allow to infuse for 20-30 minutes.

Strain the milk mixture into a clean pan and bring back to a simmer, add the bread crumbs, nutmeg and salt & pepper to taste and simmer for 15 minutes.

The sauce is now ready to serve with the grouse.

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