Something I look forward to every year is roast grouse. When I worked at London hotel kitchens, such as at The Dorchester and Grosvenor House, we were trained to cook and serve it traditionally: a single grouse presented on a silver tray with a dome cloche, beside it a heart-shaped piece of fried bread spread with the cooked liver, some bread sauce, fried breadcrumbs, a fruit jelly and game chips. It was quite a thing to see – and to know how to prepare it all.
These days I’m satisfied with a really good gravy, bread sauce and something crisp. Our game chips used to be pommes gaufrettes, which required potatoes to be sliced on the waffle blade of a mandolin. But I now serve parsnip chips, which are both tastier and easier. They make a great snack with drinks, too. I usually leave the parsnip skin on as it gives them a bit more character.
Prep time: 30 minutes
Cook time: 1 hour
For the bread sauce
1 small onion, peeled and halved
a few cloves (according to taste)
1 bay leaf
a pinch of ground nutmeg
100g fresh white breadcrumbs
For the parsnip crisps
3 large, clean parsnips
vegetable or corn oil, for frying
For the grouse and gravy
4 oven-ready young grouse
a good knob of butter, softened
4 sprigs of sage
a splash of red wine
about 150ml strong game or beef stock, homemade or good-quality bought
a little cornflour mixed with a little water (optional)
To make the bread sauce, finely chop half the onion and cook it gently in half the butter in a pan until soft. Stud the other
half with the cloves, pushing them through the bay leaf to anchor it. Put the milk, nutmeg and studded onion in the saucepan with the cooked onion and bring to the boil. Season and simmer very gently for 10-15 minutes, then remove the pan from the heat and leave the sauce to infuse for 30 minutes or so.
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 220C/200C fan/gas mark 7.
For the crisps, top and tail the parsnips, leaving the skin on unless it’s very brown. Using a sharp mandolin or a peeler, slice them as thinly as possible lengthways, then dry the strips with a clean tea towel. Set aside.
Season the grouse inside and out and rub the breasts with butter. Set in a roasting tin, put a sprig of sage into the cavity of each bird and roast for 15-20 minutes for medium-rare, basting them every so often.
Meanwhile, heat the oil for the crisps to 180C in a deep-fat fryer or heavy-bottomed saucepan (no more than a third full). Fry the parsnip slices a few at a time, stirring to ensure that they don’t stick together. Take out those that are ready (after approx 2-3 minutes) with a slotted spoon and drain on kitchen paper. The parsnips may appear soft while they are still in the fat but once they have been drained they will dry out and crisp up. Leave them somewhere warm, but not hot, to dry,
To continue the bread sauce, discard the studded onion from the pan. Add the breadcrumbs and return the sauce to a low heat. Simmer gently for 10 minutes, giving it an occasional stir. Pour a third of the bread sauce from the pan into a blender and process, then return this to the pan with the remaining 25g butter. Stir until the sauce has amalgamated; check and correct the seasoning if necessary.
Remove the grouse from the roasting tin and set aside in a warm place.
To make the gravy, place the tin on the hob over a moderate heat, add the wine and stock, and deglaze the pan by stirring up the stuck-on sediment with a wooden spoon. Simmer for a couple of minutes. For a thicker gravy, add some cornflour mixed with a little water and whisk it in while heating. Strain into a clean pan or jug.
Serve the grouse with the gravy, bread sauce and parsnip crisps. If you’ve got any grouse or game pâté, that is delicious on toast with this dish too.