Challenge Sam – Mystery Box #4

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Things have definitely taken a more autumnal twist for this latest installment. Although I’ve really enjoyed my cooking over the summer, I’m done with eating small plates of mostly cold bits and pieces. I’ve been yearning for the richness and comfort that the turn in temperature provides ample excuse for. It may not be all that cold just yet, but those stews, mashed potatoes and chowders are definitely in the post.

This seasonal shift brings a host of different flavours; we’re just about saying goodbye to courgettes, broad beans and peas and embracing a starchy army of root vegetables. Unless in the daintiest of salads, I always struggle with beetroot as a summer ingredient, and I’m happy that the time has come that I can douse it with strong, meaty sauces alongside a slab of something.

So without further ado, my mystery box this time around comprised of:

1 grouse

Smoked, streaky bacon

Beetroot

Chicken stock

Thyme

Onions

Orange

Redcurrent jelly

Blackberries

Sweet potato

Dark chocolate

Upon opening the boxes and bags that Hubbub helpfully dropped off, my first reaction was one of relief and bits of ideas instantly started jumping around my head. I was very excited by the prospect of having a go at cooking with grouse. Living in the city and being fairly detached from the countryside, I always seem to spectacularly miss out on the Glorious 12th. Yearly, I manage to plan great recipes with grouse, partridge, mallard and more, but somehow the ingredient sourcing part never gets achieved and those projects get shelved for another year. Not this time. Grouse has a funny reputation, and certainly judging by Twitter around the middle of August, it attracts a bit of a love/hate following. I was looking forward to seeing whether all of the ‘too dry’ or ‘too strong’ moaning was true, or was there really something to justify the almost royal status among fanciers.

I guess I’m slightly bias as I do enjoy that rich, savoury taste of game, liver and well-aged meat, so I wasn’t surprised to discover that I liked it. I prefer my game poultry on the rare side, so this alleviated the dryness prospect. The flavour married well with the sweet beetroot, earthy mushroom and salty bacon, and the dish when finished had a satisfying balance about it. I’m definitely inspired to cook with grouse again; I love the thought of it cooked with fresh ceps sat atop a heap of grilled bread and smashed cannellini beans to take in the juices.

I am happy to report that every mystery ingredient got used in this dish. I was slightly concerned about the potential merge of flavour in the beetroot, blackberry, chocolate and redcurrent sauce. But it wasn’t overpowering in sweetness, and alongside it’s savoury counterpart it helped enhance the other elements on the plate.

Roasted grouse with leg, morel and girolle tarte fine, sweet potato, beets, bacon and blackberry

Serves 2

Ingredients:

For the grouse:

2 grouse, crowns and legs separated and wishbones removed

4 rashers of smoked streaky bacon

10 sprigs of thyme

2 knobs of butter

For the sauce:

8 chicken wings, cut into small pieces

The legs and trimmings from the grouse

2 small onions, finely chopped

2 cloves of garlic, crushed

1 carrot, cut into small chunks

1 leek, finely sliced

1 bay leaf

5 sprigs of thyme

1 large glass of dry white wine

500ml chicken stock

Stock from the morel mushrooms, about 250ml

1 knob of butter

For the tarte fine:

1 12cm x 12cm square of 2mm puff pastry

The braised and shredded legs of the grouse

1 small handful of dried morel mushrooms

1 small handful of girolle mushrooms, brushed and sliced thinly

2 sprigs of thyme, leaves picked

1 tsp goose fat, plus a little more to finish the tarte

1 shallot, finely chopped

1 clove of garlic, finely chopped

For the beetroot sauce:

2 large beetroot, roughly chopped

2 tbsp redcurrent jelly

3 sprigs of thyme

10 blackberries

A couple of strips of orange zest

2 squares of 70% dark chocolate, finely grated

For the roasted beetroot:

3 small beetroot

1 clove of garlic

3 sprigs of thyme

For the sweet potato:

1 large sweet potato, cut into 2 8cm cylinders

3 tbsp goose fat

2 tbsp butter

5 sprigs of thyme

2 cloves of garlic

For the crispy bacon:

2 rashers smoked streaky bacon

To finish:

1 sprig thyme, leaves picked

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First make the beetroot sauce. Put the beetroot chunks, jelly, zest, thyme and blackberries into a small saucepan and just cover with water. Bring to the boil, then slowly simmer and reduce for about 1 ½ hours, until only a little thick liquid remains. Strain through a sieve and while still warm, stir in the dark chocolate until melted and combined. Pour into a plastic bottle and refrigerate until needed.

Boil about 250ml of water in a kettle. Put the dried morels in a small bowl and cover with the hot water. Allow to soak for 30 minutes. Transfer the hydrated mushrooms to a separate bowl, reserving the leftover stock.

To make the sauce, caramelise the chicken wings and grouse trimmings in a large, heavy saucepan on a medium-high heat. Add the onions, garlic, carrot and leek and continue until coloured. Stir in the herbs, then pour in the wine and reduce by half. Top up with the chicken and mushroom stock. Season the grouse legs and lower into the liquid, making sure that they are covered. Simmer gently for about an hour, until the leg meat is very tender. Allow to cool slightly, then remove the grouse legs and shred into a bowl. Strain the stock and pour the liquid into a large skillet or wide pan. Bring to the boil, then reduce until only about 150ml of thickened liquid remains. Cover and set aside.

While the grouse legs are braising, heat the goose fat for the tarte fine in a small frying pan. Gently sweat the shallot, garlic and thyme without colouring until soft. Allow to cool, then mix with the tender cooked leg meat.

Preheat the oven to 180°C.

Roll out the puff pastry on a lightly floured surface. Spread the cooled leg mixture right to the edge in a thin layer. Cut the soaked morels into slices and arrange on top with the girolle slices. Season well and brush a little extra goose fat over the mushrooms, then bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes, or until evenly golden brown. Set aside and allow to cool. When cold, cut two triangular slices with a sharp knife.

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For the roasted beetroot, arrange the whole beets in an oven dish with the thyme and garlic. Season and rub with a little oil, then cover with foil and bake for about an hour, or until tender. Allow to cool slightly, then peel and cut into quarters.

Crisp up the bacon by putting the rashers side-by-side on a greaseproof-lined baking tray. Cover with another sheet of greaseproof, then another baking tray. Bake for about 15 minutes, or until crispy.

Heat the goose fat and butter for the sweet potato in a small saucepan. When hot, add the garlic, thyme and sweet potato cylinders and lightly colour quickly on all sides. Transfer to the oven and bake for 15-20 minutes, turning occasionally, until cooked through.

Take the grouse crowns out of the fridge. Wrap 2 rashers of the bacon over the breasts of each bird, trapping some of the thyme in between. Tie in place with string and allow to come up to room temperature.

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Heat a large frying pan to a medium-high temperature. Add a generous glug of oil, then fry the grouse for 1 minute on each breast to lightly brown. Flip the birds onto their backs, then add the butter and baste well. Transfer to an oven dish, spoon over the butter then roast in the oven for about 10 minutes, basting a couple more times during the cooking. Remove from the oven and allow to rest for 10 minutes.

While the grouse is resting, heat up the sweet potato, bacon, roasted beetroot and slices of tarte fine. Warm up the grouse sauce gently, whisking in the butter just before serving.

To plate up, place a piece of the tarte fine and a sweet potato cylinder on each plate. Add two grouse breasts and one slice of the crispy bacon. Arrange a few pieces of the roasted beetroot around the plate, dot on some of the blackberry sauce and spoon over a little of the grouse sauce. Finish by sprinkling on a few thyme leaves.