Let’s start with the facts:
- Grouse is really very delicious, its bittersweet flavour made even more so by its fleetingly short season.
- Experimentation and novelty are celebrated in the world of ramen.
- Game birds were commonly eaten throughout most of Japanese history, many of them prized as symbolic and noble ingredients.
The first two are not news to most of us. But I’ve been reading a bit of Japanese food history recently, and one thing that’s struck me is how little today’s Japanese food resembles what it was like just 150 years ago. Much of what we now know as ‘traditional’ Japanese cuisine was really developed over the course of the 20th century, and prior to this, people ate very differently – rice, for example, was exceedingly rare and expensive for most of Japan’s population, while other ingredients that were once standard fare have almost disappeared from Japanese menus. Apparently, game birds are one of these ingredients, which surprised and intrigued me – it isn’t unheard of for Japanese restaurants to cook game (wild boar and mallard turn up here and there), but it is rare. I don’t think you’d be able to find an izakaya in Tokyo serving wood pigeon or hare without doing a fair bit of research.
I felt emboldened by this new knowledge that game birds needn’t be precluded from Japanese cookery on grounds of authenticity, custom, or ‘tradition.’ And in keeping with the well-established facts that creativity is always welcome in ramen, and that grouse tastes goooood, I figured I’d try an experiment: grouse ramen. This is not likely to appear on any menus at my events or my gestating restaurant, so have a go yourself if you like grouse and you like ramen. (I must say the grouse makes an amazing broth, almost chocolatey in its richness.) But do it soon – the end of grouse season fast approaches!
Yield: 2 portions
900mL pork or chicken stock
1 star anise
2 bay leaves
10g ginger, chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 small onion (100g), chopped
15g hatchō miso
pinch white pepper (to taste)
pinch sea salt (to taste)
Dissasemble the grouse: remove the breasts and discard their skin and remove the wings and legs. Vacuum pack the breasts and refrigerate until needed. Place the carcass in a pot of cold water and bring to the boil. Let it simmer for a minute or so to leach out the blood. Discard the water and rinse the carcass of any grey scum. Place into the pork or chicken stock and add the star anise, ginger, garlic, and onion. Cover, bring to the boil, and then reduce to the lowest simmer possible. Simmer for 6 hours, skimming scum off the surface as needed. The stock should reduce by about 25%; you’ll need about 650-700mL in the end. Pass the broth through a fine sieve, then whisk in the miso, pepper, and salt (note: hatchō miso is very strong, that’s why this only calls for a small amount; the rest of the seasoning will come from the salt).
reserved grouse legs and wings
150mL sesame oil
2 white nira (Chinese chives), finely sliced
pinch white pepper
big pinch salt
pinch sanshō or finely-ground Szechuan pepper
6 gyoza wrappers
Heat the oven to 110°C. Place the legs and wings in a small pan, pour over the sesame oil, and add the butter. Confit the grouse for 4 hours, turning the meat over halfway through cooking. Leave the confit to cool, then remove the meat, strain the fat through a fine sieve, and reserve. Pick the meat off the bones, being sure to avoid any tiny bones in the leg or tough bits of cartilage. Chop the pulled meat into a rough mince and mix in the nira, salt, and peppers. Place a spoonful of this mixture in the centre of each gyoza wrapper and dampen their edges with water (use your fingers). Press the edges together and crimp them 3-4 times.
10-15g ginger, cut into a fine julienne
30g rice vinegar
reserved grouse breasts
4 shiitake mushrooms, stems removed and thinly sliced
1/3 leek (white part), sliced on the bias about 2mm thick
4 white nira, thinly sliced
reserved confit fat
2 portions medium-thickness ramen noodles
Stir together the salt, mirin, and ginger until the salt is dissolved. Pour over the ginger and pickle for at least 2 hours. Discard the liquid. Heat a water bath to 63°C and carefully place in the eggs. Cook for 1 hour, then remove the eggs. Reduce the water bath temperature to 56°C. Add the grouse breasts and cook for 20-25 minutes, adding the eggs back into the water after 10 minutes to reheat them. Stir-fry the leeks until brown in the confit fat, then remove and drain on paper towel. Stir-fry the mushrooms until soft and remove. Fry the gyoza on both sides until golden brown, then add a splash of water to the pan and immediately cover with a lid so the gyoza steam through. Remove the grouse and the eggs from the water bath and let them rest for 5 minutes, then slice the grouse breast across the grain of the muscle. Reheat the broth and cook the noodles in rapidly boiling water for 1 minute and drain. To assemble: pour the broth into a bowl, then add the noodles, then the mushrooms, then the sliced grouse breast, then the gyoza, then the leeks, then the nira. Enjoy with yamahai sake or Syrah.