Famous grouse

Bonhams Magazine

Issue 48, Autumn 2016

Page 22

Tom Kemble, head chef at the Michelin-starred Bonhams Restaurant, welcomes back the nation's favorite game bird

Grouse have always been the most prized game birds in Britain – and for very good reason. It is not just because they are incredibly hard to shoot, but also because of their wonderfully complex flavor of heather, which evolves during the brief shooting season from August 12th to early December. Because they live in the wild, grouse numbers vary dramatically, though recent years have seen more than a quarter of a million birds on offer.

Winston Churchill loved them so much he gained special permission in 1941 to have 90 birds shot – a week early – so he could take them by battleship for a banquet with President Roosevelt.

Diners today don't go to such lengths, although one English aristocrat dines at a London restaurant each night for a week from August 12th just to savor the difference caused by how long they have been hung.

Early in the season, the distinctive flavor of grouse goes amazingly well with a fine Burgundy or Bordeaux, but nonetheless I prefer to wait until the end of September to start offering it on our menus at Bonhams. The main reason is that I am waiting for a steady and consistent flow of birds from the various estates that I work with, but it also provides us with a great window in which to prepare various preserves, pickles and ferments from the last of the summer's offerings to pair with the game.

The recipe here is a play on the classic accompaniments to grouse, namely bread sauce and potato chips. I have modernized it to provide a wonderfully balanced dish, where sweetness, sourness, richness and earthiness all come into play.

Tom Kemble is Head Chef at Bonhams Restaurant, 7 Haunch of Venison Yard, London, W1

The restaurant is open for lunch from 12 noon - 2.30pm, Mon - Fri; and for dinner from 7pm, Wed - Fri.

Reservations: +44 (0) 20 7468 5868

On a wing and a plate


I use grouse that has been hung for up to a week. Any more than that and the flavor overpowers and unbalances the dish. If you are not keen on a strong 'gamey' flavor, then a very fresh grouse or a lighter game bird such as partridge would be a worthy substitute.

Ask your butcher to prepare the grouse for you 'oven ready'. Stuff the cavity with thyme, rosemary, garlic cloves and juniper berries.

Season the skin well with salt and pepper, and brown the bird all over in a hot pan with beef dripping. Add some butter to the pan and, when it is foaming, baste the grouse. Place it on a rack in the oven and cook at 180℃ for around 10mins, depending on how well-cooked you like your grouse. Rest the bird under some tinfoil while you make the garnish. When I'm at home, I like to serve the grouse whole, though you could take the breast and legs off.

At Bonhams we smoke the grouse. I have my game-dealer send fresh heather from the moors where the grouse are shot, and I use it to gently smoke the breast once the bird is cooked. While this isn't essential for preparing the dish at home, it does add depth.

Grouse jus

This is optional: you could just spoon any roasting juices from cooking the grouse onto the plate. But I do like taking the time to make it, not least because I love it when the jus combines with the bread sauce to flood the plate.

1 white onion, roughly chopped
2 carrots, roughly chopped
1 leek, roughly chopped
a knob of butter
100ml red wine
1 liter of chicken or game stock

Roast the vegetables in a saucepan with a knob of butter until nicely caramelized. Add the red wine and reduce by ¾. Add the chicken or game stock, and simmer for 30mins. Reduce to the desired consistency and pass through a sieve.

Bread sauce

For this recipe I use sourdough bread left over from what we bake daily for the restaurant. The sourdough gives a deeper flavor to the sauce.

1 white onion
5 whole cloves
500ml whole milk
5 slices of old sourdough bread, diced
salt and pepper
pinch of nutmeg
a knob of butter

Stud the onion with the cloves, then add to a pan with the milk and heat gently for 20mins to infuse. Remove the onion, then add in the old bread and some salt and pepper to taste. Continue to heat until the sauce is thickened and creamy. For a smoother consistency, blitz with a stick blender and add some more milk. Grate a pinch of nutmeg into the sauce, and beat a knob of butter in too. Serve warm.

Damson purée

Damsons are a quintessentially English fruit. They provide a welcome sweetness and sharpness to cut through the strong flavor of grouse. There is only a short window at the end of August and start of September when they are available; if you miss out, blackberries produce a similar result.

500g damsons
100g sugar
1tsp lemon juice

Freeze the damson with sugar in a bag. Defrost the next day and pour the contents into a pan. Bring the damsons to a simmer and push them through a sieve. This will separate the flesh from the stones and make a lovely smooth purée. Add the lemon juice and taste the purée. Adjust the sweetness with more sugar, if required.

Celeriac purée

1 celeriac peeled and diced
1tbs butter
200ml whole milk
salt and pepper

Sweat the celeriac dice in a pan with the butter without coloring it. Add the milk and season. Cook gently until the celeriac is tender. Drain and reserve the milk. Transfer to a blender and pour back a little of the cooking milk until you reach the desired consistency.

Jerusalem artichoke chips

Potato 'gaufrette' chips are the classic accompaniment to grouse, but I prefer to use Jerusalem artichokes instead. If you keep their skins on, they make a lovely earthy crisp.

100g Jerusalem artichokes
vegetable oil to fry

Scrub the artichokes under running water to remove any dirt. Slice thinly on a mandolin. Heat a pan of oil to 160℃. Deep-fry the chips and drain on a cloth.

Now serve the grouse on or off the bone with the bread sauce, jus and celeriac purée. Toss some watercress with some olive oil and vinegar, and dress the plate. Scatter the artichoke chips on top.

Wine box

The rich gamey flavor of grouse requires a wine that shows intense fruit and, ideally, a hint of the farmyard. Perfect matches on the list at Bonhams restaurant include:

2011 Le Soula, Côtes Catalanes £52
This wine from Languedoc-Roussillon is loaded with fruit, and has an earthy character and mineral note.

2011 Domaine de Trévallon Rouge,
Vin de Pays des Bouches du Rhône £85

An unusual blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah, this wine offers power as well as elegance.

1999 Nuit Saint Georges 1er cru
'Les Pruliers' Domaine Jean Grivot £150

Mature Burgundy is the classic pairing with grouse. This superb bottle is a treat that is not to be missed.

Charlotte Logan-Jones, sommelier

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