The Glorious 12th, on Thursday, was the official start of the grouse shooting season.
Queen Victoria was not amused by the constant shoots and, in 1892, saw fit to officially approve the introduction of the grouse season, and the off season, in order to help protect the wild life during the breeding period.
Many gamekeepers feel that mid-August is still a bit too early in the season, as the young grouse are only a couple of months old. But that doesn't deter enthusiasts and there is still a lot of beating about the bush at this time of year.
Generations of royalty, as well as bankers, politicians and the city set, have moved to Scotland for the season to shoot and fish at their favourite hunting grounds.
Nowadays a short hop on a plane and they can be on their chosen estate in a couple of hours.
But their predecessors were a hardier breed. They had to endure the train journey followed by a horse-drawn carriage to the shooting lodge, before donning their tweeds and setting off into the purple heather-clad Scottish hills to enjoy fresh air and peace from the maddening pace of city life.
Centuries have passed and nothing much has changed on the grouse moors.
It is an expensive pursuit, particularly for those who are determined to bag their grouse on the gloriously expensive 12th.
A shooting syndicate of eight people, strategically placed on their butts (which are the stone constructions on a hill from where they shoot) and perhaps bagging 20 to 30 brace of grouse on a good estate, can expect a bill of pounds 20,000 - excluding gratuities.
Some feel it's worth it for the day itself, others savour the kill later.
The grouse is truly "organic", roaming free on a diet of heather shoots, flowers and blaeberries. Blaeberries are similar to sloe or juniper berries.
The diet of the bird is the key to the taste of the meat. There's often an unexpected piece of pellet shot too, to the annoyance of diners.
The poor old chef can only reply: "We've tried talking them down, but they simply won't come,"
There are a few types of grouse available: Black Grouse, most commonly found in the Highlands, white Grouse (Ptmarigan), Wood Grouse (Capercaille) and the most common of all (seen on whisky bottles) the Red Grouse, with its distinctive red comb over the eyes and a plumage of rusty brown. The age of this bird is not as visible as in other game birds, but the flight feathers in the younger birds are more pointed than the older birds.
As a lad I worked in the grand kitchens at Gleneagles Hotel almost in the days when the politicians were arriving by train.
In fact, during my time there the kitchen stoves were changed from smoking coal to gas. That was in 1972.
On the 12th, we were met by a mountain of feathered birds and spent many hours plucking and roasting.
Gleneagles executive chef Michael Picken, tells me there's no great demand for this bird now. More surprisingly, there is no shooting within the grounds of the hotel unless it's clay pigeon (skeets).
But for your hard-earned cash, you may spoil yourself to a grouse starter dish for pounds 14 or a traditional roast grouse with all the traditional accompaniments. Or try chef Pickens grouse breasts with a fresh thyme and celeriac boulangere with a morrel cassoulet. Delicious and a bargain at pounds 30.
If you are lucky enough to be given this spectacular bird fresh from the hills in full plumage, then the hanging time in a cold cellar should be around four to six days.
The average bird weighs approximately one pound and one bird is allocated per person, as the legs are generally too tough and sinewy to eat.
If you really want some use from the legs, you could mince them and make a pate with the bird's liver and heart. This can be spread on a crouton for the perfectly roasted breasts, still on the bone. Or use them as a good game stock to make your roast gravy or sauce.
Good fishmongers will stock or order your grouse and they normally arrive through reputable game dealers.
I accompanied our grouse dish with some fondant style potatoes, which are half-covered with stock, brushed liberally with butter and placed in a hot oven until the juices are almost dry.
The potato is golden brown on top, half roasted, and half braised on the bottom, full of flavour from the stock.
The unusual gateau of turnip is made with sliced turnip, butter, prunes, cream, egg yolk, nutmeg seasoning and baked in the oven.
Some people fill the breast cavity with strong herbs and berries to enhance the flavour of the birds and the sauce. These herbs and berries are mixed with butter and act as a basting agent.
4 Young oven-ready grouse
Mixture of berries (rowan,blaeberries, blueberries and raspberries
A mixture of fresh herbs, fresh thyme, bay leaf and lovage.
4 Rashers of streaky bacon
pt/300ml Game stock or chicken stock.
Mix the butter with the herb and berry mixture and place in the rib cavity of the grouse.
Place a large heavy based pan or roasting tray on to heat with a little oil.
Sear the birds on all sides for a couple of minutes and place on their backs in the oven, Gas 8/230c/450f, roast for 10 mins.
Reduce the oven temperature to gas 4/180c/350f and cook for a further five or 10 minutes, depending on how pink you wish to keep the meat.
During the cooking process you can turn the birds or baste them with the oil and juices in the pan.
Allow the meat to rest somewhere warm for around 10 minutes.
Use the residue pan juices to make your gravy/ sauce, adding the stock and red wine.
Strain through a very fine strainer and carefully remove any surface fat and simmer down to half the original volume.
Taste and check for seasoning.
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|Publication:||Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)|
|Date:||Aug 14, 1999|
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