GROUSE WITH HEATHER HONEY TOAST – guest recipe by Rose Prince
INGREDIENTS(Serves 4 as a starter or something to eat with drinks)
By Rose Prince, from THE NEW ENGLISH TABLE (published by Fourth Estate)
I fear our children may one day live in a world without grouse, the genuinely indigenous birds that are found on high moorland. That is not to say that going without eating them is the end of the world, simply that if the moor landscape cannot support grouse there is something wrong with that environment and the way it is managed. And not to know grouse is not to taste its rare flavour, which has notes of freshwater fish combined with powerful elements of well-hung beef. There is no other meat like it – but it is under threat. The numbers have been declining for a long time; grouse thrive on heather but also, conversely, on the interference of humans. Unless the farmer or landowner maintains the heather in the right way, keeping it long when the grouse want to nest, short when they need to feed up, they will abandon the hill.
The sport of grouse shooting is the only incentive for landowners to work hard at managing what is essentially a wilderness that only hill-bred sheep and some very hardy beef cattle can be reared on. Dressed and ready for the oven, grouse are very expensive to buy – at least £18–20 per brace (pair). Prices are governed mainly by availability. Old grouse and later-season birds are cheaper. Ask for young grouse if you plan to roast them. But think of it this way: enthusiastic sportsmen pay a fortune for a day’s grouse shooting, so the real cost of the bird you eat has been heavily subsidised! A grouse is a peculiar kind of bargain, then.
Grouse eat heather, and heather honey shows off the flavour of grouse nicely. There is rightness in matching ingredients in this way that is hard to explain, but it is a fact that foods that inhabit the same environment, taste good together too.
There are plenty of grouse devotees who do not want their favourite game bird served any way other than hot with bread sauce; one of my chef friends told me – without having tasted it – that the grouse and honey idea was an aberration. But on a trip to Dumfries to meet a game dealer and family, I made it for them and all, old and young, adored it.
METHODDIFFICULTY: Medium 10 MINS
Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F/Gas Mark 6. Cut 8 or more slices of bread, then cut each slice in half diagonally. Butter them on both sides, place on a baking sheet and bake for 8–10 minutes, until pale golden and crisp.
Brush each piece of toast with honey and put on a plate. Divide the grouse meat among the toasts, grind a little black pepper on to each one and scatter over a few salt crystals. Add the currants or blueberries, if you have them, and serve. The grouse toasts can be kept waiting a while.
Tips on roasting a grouse
Pour a little sizzling fat inside each bird’s cavity, and shake it from side to side – this has the effect of ‘cleaning’ off any rank blood or tissue, and definitely prevents the grouse from tasting bitter, as they occasionally do.
Roast in an oven preheated to 220°C/425°F/Gas Mark 7 for about 25–30 minutes, depending on whether you like them pink, which I recommend, or well done. Rest the birds in a warm place for 10–15 minutes before serving with either fried breadcrumbs or bread sauce.