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Spelt Pappardelle with Grouse Sauce

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Homemade freshly-milled spelt flour noodles in a century-old sauce from a grouse that came with the feathers. Quite an experience!

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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
200gr spelt wheat flour
200gr semolina flour
4 eggs
1 grouse, woodcock, phaesant or other game bird
1 carrot
1 onion
50gr thinly cubed guanciale or pancetta (both are fine seasoned Italian bacons)
1 bay leaf
5 juniper or myrtle berries
1 glass red wine
A drop of cream
Grated Parmesan cheese

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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.

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Work the dough for about 10 minutes until it is smooth and let it rest wrapped in foil for 30 minutes or so.

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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.

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Let the pasta rest on a towel or wire rack so that it won't stick to itself and make big lumps.

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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!

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Remove the skin if you want. Cut the head and feet.

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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.

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Sauté the bird in a large Dutch oven with a tablespoon oil. The browning of the bird gives it added flavor.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Remove the grouse's breasts. The French call this lever les suprêmes "to lift the supremoes". Ah the French, always the poets.

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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.

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Cook the pappardelle in salted water with no oil, in your biggest pot and over your hottest burner.

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Remove before it is fully cooked and keep it very al dente - bity.

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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.

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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.

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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.


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13 Comments

  • #1
  • Comment by Joanna
Fabulous ... I love the idea of making pasta with spelt flour, it has such taste, and that's obviously a good thing to stand up to the game sauce. And as for the game sauce, it's too late to go out right now and get a bird from the butcher ;) - but I think that's definitely the thing for the weekend ...ThanksJoannajoannasfood.blogspot.com
  • #2
  • Comment by Lyra
Looks great, I have never tried spelt pasta, I'll have to made some parpadelle though. I've plucked/gutted/scaled my share of animal and if you are going to eat meat, its nice to know that it actually saw sunshine and could move about freely isn't it?
  • #3
  • Comment by Saxit
Amazing. I've had a couple of sauces like that at restaurants (gnocchi with duck sauce is probably the most memorable) and it's just fantastic.I'm quite impressed that you did all that work on the bird yourself - though I was a bit concerned that you plucked it inside. Doesn't birds have a lot of bacteria and parasites in their feathers?
  • #4
  • Comment by steamy kitchen
You won something! Come on over and claim your prize (and email me your address)
  • #5
  • Comment by Barry Dawson
Read your recipe for Grouse with Pappardelle, and look forward to trying it. Do you really get grief  about using game?! Hey, it all sounds good to me! (I also think the hunting ban should be repealed, but then, what do I know)RegardsBarry Dawson
  • #6
  • Answered by fx
Barry, yes sometimes when cooking fine animals, I can't help thinking about their lives and times. It's a way of honoring them. But I think about late vegetables too and keep eating everything! I didn't know that hunting was banned in Scotland, if it is, then I agree it's a pity.
  • #7
  • Comment by Hova
fx, this is a wonderful recipe and although I only stumbled upon your website yesterday, I've been reading reading reading and clearly your skills are top-notch.  Your preparation of this dish, the sort that most modern amateur chefs would never think to tackle, is truly lovingly and thoughtfully done... but I would have to say, your cheeky photographic allusion to the paintings of Jean-Siméon Chardin is the most impressive thing about this particular post!!  ;)
  • #8
  • Answered by fx
Hova, thanks for visiting! I think you might want to let the grouse have a swim in a bowl of milk to rid it of its ammonia flavor. We sure had fun with this grouse. My mate Chardin and myself agree that having it in fur really gives you the idea of hanging it by a leg to occupy the still life's upper space.
hey - love that this was submitted to tastespotting, and would also love to put it on the front pge, but would you mind resubmitting it cropped to 250 square, and also without the watermark? then we can put this bird on the table...

love, tastespotting
  • #10
  • Comment by Thom

Fx..
        Ah... the spelt... an underutilized grain... perfect for those of you that cannot tolerate wheat... so good, any way, for these purposes. The Red Grouse (Largopus largopus scoticus) an indiginee, unique to Britain and Scotland and some of the Northern Isles is a superb game and culinary bird. The subject of your images is this fowl. The small rupture in the left breast, looks to moiré, a shot hole, this bird felt no pain, a heart shot. Should those of you who are squeamish about these matters there's a magnifcent alternative, African Guinea Fowl/hen
(Numeda meleagris), (Frn. 'Pintade') generally obtainable world wide. They are had from game hatcheries.... you could use Pheasant.. the point is red fowl meat for a rich sauce ...Google for birds.... Regards Culpeper.....
  • FX's answer→ Thanks for those details Thom, do you hunt those birds yourself? Is there much difference in taste in wild wild grouse compared to the reared wild grouse?

  • #12
  • Comment by don siranni
Francois,this is now an hour after my last comment on swiss potato,cheese,etc.,,and,shit, I still haven't found the chestnut pie!But this is actually the first time I've found this partridge,and it is really wonderful.As always thanks.  Don
Looks delicious ! Order your grouse online with Allens of Mayfair, online butcher. Directly to your door !

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