Spelt Pappardelle with Grouse SauceHome >> Recipes
In Northern Italy people serve rich sauces made from fowl and game on large flat noodles - parpadelle [paparDAYlay]. When made from birds the sauce is very much like French salmis, a sauce very popular in the 19th century but now out of fashion due to its strong taste, long time needed to prepare and use of expensive birds who finish as goulash in a sauce. Not the sort of dish that makes a profitable restaurant, but quite spectacular.
Spelt Pappardelle with Grouse Sauce
Grouse has a lot of taste and you need pasta that can stand up to it. I decided to grind 200gr (1/2 lbs) spelt grain in my mill and mix it with store-bought semolina flour to provide the gluten that will prevent my papardelle from falling apart. Spelt is a grain people have eaten for a solid 2000 years in the Italian peninsula.
Mix both flours with the eggs and add as much extra flour or water as needed to get a stiff ball that doesn't stick anymore.
Work the dough for about 10 minutes until it is smooth and let it rest wrapped in foil for 30 minutes or so.
You can start working on the grouse while the dough is resting, but when you come back to the dough, here is what to do. Papardelle are the easiest Italian pasta you can make, huge flat noodles that require only a rolling pin and a knife to prepare. Give them a chance and try to make them at least once. Roll the dough on a wooden table if you can, using as little flour as you can to prevent it from sticking. Ideally no flour at all should be added. Roll it without adding too much pressure but rather trying to extend it by fast repeated rolling to and from you. Stop when the dough is thin enough, ideally about 1mm. Let it dry a bit by hanging a third of the flattened dough over the edge of the table, then when you are confident it won't stick, roll it and cut 1-inch/2.5cm wide strips. Don't make them too long or they'll be unwieldy, I reckon 8-inches/20cm long is plenty.
Let the pasta rest on a towel or wire rack so that it won't stick to itself and make big lumps.
Now let's work on the bird. This grouse came from Scotland and I was told it is a wild animal although I couldn't find any lead pellets in it. First you need to pluck it, a very memorable experience and not something that is done much nowadays. Quite fun but also gory, some people could be shocked, and I can't say I'd do it every day either!
Remove the skin if you want. Cut the head and feet.
Now for our most dreadful sacrifice. Inside the grouse are three organs we'll need for the sauce - heart, liver and gullet. The stomach is not eaten and it is not hard to see why. As you can see on the picture (above right, click to zoom) it was filled with the grouse's last meal - half leaves and half gravel. That's right, little white stones like you would find in a driveway. Wash the meat and then your hands and then wash them again.
Sauté the bird in a large Dutch oven with a tablespoon oil. The browning of the bird gives it added flavor.
When the bird is browned on all side remove it from the pot and add the finely chopped onions, carrot and bacon. Add the heart and liver although if using grouse or woodcock you might decide there is already enough taste and leave them for the dogs. Turn frequently until the bacon browned on all sides and the onion has released its water.
Let the bay leaf join the carrots and onions and add the juniper or myrtle berries. I used myrtle because my friend Zed brought me some from Sardinia and they are very Italian.
Add a glass of red wine and turn well to dissolve all the brown bits in the bottom of the pot so that they'll become part of the sauce. Add the grouse back to the pot and simmer over a low fire until the grouse is cooked through - about 30 minutes.
Remove the grouse's breasts. The French call this lever les suprêmes "to lift the supremoes". Ah the French, always the poets.
Slice the breasts crosswise and reserve in a covered plate. Remove any remaining flesh from the grouse and add the carcass back to the simmering pot. You can let the sauce continue to simmer with the carcass while you heat the water to cook the pasta. When you are ready to finish the sauce, just filter it through a sieve, if possible a chinois like on the central picture above. This will make for a more refined sauce with no bits floating in it - save for the grouse's best morsels.
Cook the pappardelle in salted water with no oil, in your biggest pot and over your hottest burner.
Remove before it is fully cooked and keep it very al dente - bity.
You can finish the sauce French-style with a drop of heavy cream for a lighter taste and smoother look. Add the reserved grouse breasts.
Mix the pasta with the sauce and serve with grated Parmesan. That was great fun for a weekday's dinner and well worth the work.
So, how does it taste? Well, the Romans recommend to speak only good things of the dead. Let's say that the grouse will make woodcocks look like bland. A bird of character, no doubt. And a fine sauce with delicious spelt papardelle. You may want to do this recipe with a bird with less personality such as pigeon or even duck. I made this without any recipe, so technically it is "My Invention" but obviously it is a very traditional game bird sauce like Escoffier's salmis.
Undoubtedly I will receive concerned comments from people who think it cruel to eat birds. I can respect that, but please don't come open the putrid contents of your bleeding heart and hurl abuse on my blog just because this bird came with its feathers on. This grouse has lived a much happier life than any battery chickens and has been used in a way that is much more respectful than ending up as a Chicken McNugget. So please spare me your feelings or write to some blogger who uses battery chickens.