Monday, 3 October 2016

Grouse ragu with pappardelle, girolles and thyme

Ragu is without doubt one of my favourite things to eat. A saucepan of meat that has been patiently cooked until falling apart and tender, swimming in thick, rich reduced sauce offers a level of comfort and satisfaction that is hard to find in any other food. Add to that soft, buttery strands of pasta or melting wet polenta for and you’ve got a winner on your hands. Just don’t expect to be very active for some time afterwards! 

I’ve made ragu with a range of different meats over the years; beef shin and bone marrow is the classic, and lamb, anchovy and mint is a firm favourite in our household. I’ve even lightened it up in the summer by combining rabbit and peas. Once you’ve mastered one, the principle is very similar with others, and it’s great to experiment with different produce across the seasons. Now that game is well and truly back on the menu, I really wanted to have a go with grouse. This almost livery-flavoured meat is not to everybody’s taste, but I love the metallic intensity. Some would say that using such prime birds for a slow-cooked ragu is a waste, but I was really happy with the results. In my mind cooking the grouse in this way is a match for anything served pink and fast, as the flavours are allowed time to properly marry together.
Autumn also sees the start of the mushroom season proper. For this recipe I’ve stuck with reliable favourites girolles, but I really can’t wait to cook with wonderful fresh porcini, and perhaps if I’m lucky, a little truffle. All bound together with some scrambled duck eggs, or carefully folded into a risotto. Now there’s something that will have to be cooked in the next few weeks…
Serves 2
For the ragu:
2 grouse, livers and hearts removed and retained 
4 rashers of smoked, streaky bacon, sliced 
1 onion, chopped 
2 garlic cloves, chopped 
1 carrot, chopped 
A good few sprigs of fresh thyme 
1 bay leaf 
1 large glass of red wine 
1 litre of chicken stock 
1 large knob of butter 
½ a lemon, juice only
For the pappardelle:
200g Italian ‘00’ grade flour 
2 medium eggs 
1 tbsp olive oil 
For the mushrooms:
Two handfuls of girolle mushrooms, trimmed and brushed clean 
1 large knob of butter
To finish:
Parmesan cheese 
A few sprigs of fresh thyme, leaves picked

Preheat the oven to 160⁰C.
Pour a generous glug of olive oil into a large, heavy saucepan and bring to a high heat. Season the grouse all over with salt and pepper. When the pan is hot, brown the birds all over for a couple of minutes on each side. Transfer the grouse to a side plate and add the bacon to the empty pan. Fry for a couple of minutes until slightly caramelised, then add the onion, carrot, garlic, thyme and bay leaf. Continue to cook for a further 3-4 minutes. Pour in the red wine, bring to the boil and allow to reduce by half. Return the grouse to the pan and cover with the chicken stock. Bring back to the boil, then tuck a sheet of greaseproof paper over the top, and cover the pan with a lid. Carefully slide the pan into the oven cook for 45 minutes, or until the flesh on the grouse is very tender. 

When the grouse are cooked, remove them from the pan and allow to cool slightly. Using your hands, strip all of the meat from the crowns and legs, making sure to avoid all bones and shot. Shred finely. Strain the cooking liquid through a sieve into a large frying pan and discard all of the solids. Set the pan onto a high heat and reduce the liquid by two-thirds, until slightly thickened and intensified in flavour. Stir the grouse meat back into the sauce. Set aside until needed later.
While the grouse is cooking, make the pasta. Pour the flour into a mixing bowl and use a wooden spoon to make a well in the middle. Crack in the eggs, pour in the olive oil and add a generous pinch of salt. Mix the liquid into the flour until a dough is formed, then use your hands to knead for 8-10 minutes, until springy and smooth in texture. Wrap with cling film and put in the fridge to rest for 30 minutes. 

When the pasta dough has rested, use a pasta machine or rolling pin to roll into thin sheets. Cut the pasta into thick pappardelle with a sharp knife.
Bring a large frying pan to a high heat and add the butter for the mushrooms. Scatter in the mushrooms, along with a good pinch of seasoning. Fry for 3-4 minutes, tossing frequently, until golden brown on all sides. Set aside.
Fill up a large saucepan with water and add plenty of salt. Bring to the boil.
Gently reheat the grouse ragu in the frying pan. Very finely chop the grouse livers and hearts and stir through the sauce.
When the water is hot, add the fresh pasta and boil for 2 minutes. Use tongs to transfer the pappardelle into the grouse pan, along with the girolle mushrooms, the remaining butter, thyme leaves, a good grating of parmesan cheese and the lemon juice. Toss everything together really well, and continue to cook together for a further minute or two. If the sauce needs loosening slightly, add a small amount of the pasta cooking water.
To serve, pile the pappardelle onto plates and finish with more grated parmesan and a good crack of black pepper.

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