Though I’ve been cooking and celebrating this day for many years, it still remains one of the most significant dates in my kitchen calendar. Red grouse is unique to Scotland and the north of England, and for me it’s one of our true food treasures.
The first grouse of the season are sent to chefs all over the world who also want to be the first to get their hands on the wonderful, celebrated birds. It’s one of the reasons I feel so lucky to have access to the magnificent produce. For me, it’s fantastic to be able to serve some of the very best grouse in Scotland as soon as I possibly can when it’s entirely fresh and bang in season.
On the Glorious Twelfth, I always try to make sure I head out to meet my trusted gamekeeper as early as I can to get the very first, fresh grouse, still warm and in their feathers. I love that journey back to my kitchen as I can’t wait to meet the rest of my team, who are ready and waiting to work together – plucking, tying and preparing the grouse – so we can all meet the demands of our diners, some of whom will have booked up with us a whole year in advance. Sometimes, depending on the shoot, I can get my hands on as many as 50 birds from my gamekeeper. It’s such a joy for me to be able to give our diners the chance to share in the celebration.
The first grouse of the season doesn’t need a lot of preparation as it should really be celebrated in its simplest form. Grouse is a nimble bird so the meat is very lean. The grouse’s diet of heather means it has a wonderful taste of nature itself: intense, deep, complex and fresh. If you haven’t tried grouse bang in season I really urge you to – it’s one of those memorable experiences you will truly relish.
No other day in my kitchen quite gets my pulse racing and my heart beating the way this special day does. It also signals the start of autumn – a whole new host of ingredients to look forward to and the welcoming of the glorious game season ahead.
SCOTTISH GROUSE WITH BREAD SAUCE AND GAME CHIPS
2 grouse, prepared and wrapped in bacon
salt and pepper
50g celeriac, carrots and celery, chopped into 1cm dice
2 sprigs of fresh thyme
1 tablespoon brandy
250ml chicken stock
1⁄2 large onion, peeled
1 tablespoon butter
110g white bread, crusts removed, cut into 2cm cubes
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 large potato
300ml vegetable oil
To prepare the grouse
Take the grouse out of the fridge so that they can come to room temperature before you start cooking. Preheat the oven to 200C/gas mark 6.
Heat a tablespoon of vegetable oil in a large heavy-bottomed roasting tin. Season the grouse very well, inside and out, then sear them in the pan until golden brown all over. Add the diced vegetables, baby onions and thyme sprigs to the pan. Place the grouse on one breast and roast in the hot oven for three to four minutes. Flip the birds on to the other breast and roast for another three minutes. Next pour brandy into both birds and place them on their back to finish roasting – another five minutes.
Remove the pan from the oven and leave the grouse to rest for ten minutes, breast upwards, so the juices are evenly distributed. Keep all the pan juices and vegetables.
Put the roasting tin back on the heat on top of the stove and begin to reduce the cooking juices. Add the chicken stock, bring to the boil and let the sauce reduce and thicken. Take off the heat and pass through a fine sieve. Keep warm until ready to serve.
To make the bread sauce
Simmer the milk with the onion stuck with cloves and cook until the onion is tender. Strain the milk into a clean pan and add the butter. Next, whisk in the bread off the heat and mix until smooth. For a smoother sauce, use a hand blender. To finish, season with salt, white pepper and nutmeg.
To make the game chips
Using the criss-cross part of a mandolin and cut the potato into slices roughly 3mm thick. Warm the oil gently on the stove. Dip a slice into the oil to check the oil is hot enough to fry. Fry the potatoes until crispy. Drain on paper towel and season lightly with salt.
Serve the rested grouse whole with pan juices, vegetables, bread sauce, game chips, sautéed spinach and girolles. If you don’t like bread sauce, serve with celeriac purée.
Scottish Food & Drink Conference 2013 is at The Scottish National Gallery on 10 September. Visit www.scotsmanconferences.com for details