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Although grouse shooting is deeply rooted in tradition, the game bird industry in the 21st century has been evolving with the times. Once the preserve of a select few, game has become more accessible with mainstream supermarkets now stocking grouse and increasing promotion by celebrity chefs contributing to its popularity.
In order to prepare for eating them from the twelfth of August, medicated grit (Flubendazole) is removed from the moor at least 28 days before the start of the shooting season to allow for complete withdrawal from the birds system in preparation for consumption.
The journey from hill to fork begins at the end of each drive with the shot birds collected and carefully hung in a purpose built game cart, protecting them from bruising and flies on a hot summer’s day. At the end of the day’s shooting when the head keeper and his staff gather the day’s bag, they sort the young and old grouse before hanging them all in the estate larder. Ideally, the game is allowed to hang for a day before collection by the dealer to enable the grouse to be chilled naturally, preserving both its flavour and quality. On the third day, the game should be processed to give it a reasonable shelf life of 12 days for sale to restaurants, specialist butchers and supermarkets.
The game dealers and processors of today combine a traditional respect for the quarry with modern food safe factories, processing equipment, refrigerated transport, storage and packaging equipment. Unfortunately, grouse eaten on the evening of the twelfth of August, in anything other than the top restaurants and clubs, is likely to be last season’s stock sold frozen and oven ready. Although bringing fresh grouse to a fine dining dinner table on the first day of the season is possible, artificially chilling grouse quickly compromises its texture and leads to a toughness in the bird many chefs would seek to avoid.
In the first few days of the season, estates can expect to receive up to £8 per bird from game dealers for the bird in feather, which is then processed and sold on to London restaurants for up to £15. Prices then fall gradually as the season progresses dropping back to as low as £2 per young bird by November. The grouse market can be seen as a precursor to the whole game season by some dealers, encouraging chefs to develop other game dishes on their menus throughout the next few months. Many game dealers now target the home market first but the surplus is still sold abroad, to the European market, with France, Belgium, Italy and Spain each taking a proportion of the birds.
Andrew Pern is one of the pioneers of the gastropub revolution: since becoming the chef-proprietor of The Star Inn at Harome in North Yorkshire, in 1996, he has done as much as anybody to bring pubs and fine dining together. Now, countless awards later, Andrew’s dedication to local, seasonal ingredients is finding additional expression through a new restaurant, The Star Inn The City, York.
As a champion of local produce, Andrew has long espoused the virtues of game.
“I was born and brought up on a farm near Whitby, where my father had a rough shoot,” he says, “so we were always spoilt for choice with a variety of game in the family kitchen. From a very young age I would help with the pheasant chicks; a few years on, pheasant fricassee was one of the first dishes I taught myself to cook. Now, with The Star Inn located on the edge of the North Yorkshire Moors, I am still surrounded by game – I can’t imagine not making the most of this fantastic produce and it can be used to create quite light dishes as well as the traditional winter warmers. Game is versatile, local and healthy – a win-win situation.
“We have contacts with all of the local estates (such as Rievaulx, where we get most of our partridge and the Spaunton/Danby Moor Estate for the first grouse of the season), and the local shoot has its HQ next door-but-one to the Inn (its members use us as their local). So sourcing top quality game is not difficult for us.
“With my book ‘Loose Birds and Game’, I have tried to show the versatility of game. The traditional roast cannot be beaten, especially at the beginning of the season, but as the season goes on, it’s great to use game in a variety of other guises: soups, salads, sausage rolls, pasta dishes, suet puddings and stews. I hope that these options also make game a little more accessible to those who may not have had much experience of cooking or eating it.”
- 4 young grouse, oven ready
- 4 slices of pancetta
- 3 cooking apples
- 100g sugar
- 100ml mulled wine
- 100g brambles
- 50ml sloe gin
- 100ml veal stock
Preheat the oven to 180°C/Gas Mark 4. Place the grouse on an oven tray, season, then take the pancetta and cover over the bird’s breasts, to keep them moist, and roast for about 16–18 minutes. Remove from the oven and leave to rest.
To make the apple purée, peel and core the apples and cut into quarters. Place in a small saucepan, adding a little water and the sugar, bring to boil and cook until very soft. Purée in a food processor until smooth.
Bring the mulled wine to the boil, then place the brambles in a small dish and cover with the wine, leaving to cool and take on the flavours of the wine.
For the sauce, heat the veal stock and reduce by half. At this point, add the sloe gin, which will add a rich and fruity flavour to the sauce.
To serve, take the breasts and legs off the birds. Spoon the apple purée on to the plates and put two breasts and legs on each plate. Place the mulled brambles around each plate and finish with the sloe gin sauce, adding the pancetta as a garnish on top.