Salmis is an easy method of dealing with game, which allows prior preparation and pretty much guarantees moist results by combining roasting with stewing. It is an excellent way of cooking birds that have very little natural fat in their flesh, and the recipe includes the basic method of making a good gravy or jus.
While this recipe specifies grouse, it works just as well with pheasant, partridge or wood pigeon, though you need to adjust the cooking times accordingly. The preliminary roasting should only half-cook the bird. If using wood pigeon, eat only the breast meat. It may seem like a complex recipe, but it is actually very straightforward and its two-stage nature makes it an ideal dinner-party dish, since all the preparation and early cooking of the birds and the gravy may be done the day ahead.
Prepare the birds: wipe their insides clean with a damp cloth to remove any bitter fluids. Season copiously inside and out, rubbing the salt and pepper into the skins. Using 2 pieces of string on each bird, tie the bacon neatly to cover the breasts. (I prefer streaky bacon to the barding pork back fat usually used by game dealers and tying the barding material yourself means you can season underneath it.)
Place the roasting pan or casserole over a medium heat on the hob and melt the butter in it Brown the grouse all over in this for about 3 minutes. Given you have selected a pan or casserole in which the birds fit snugly, and assuming you are cooking 4 birds, brown them 2 at a time, using half the butter for the first 2 and the remainder for the second pair.
Then arrange all 4 birds in the dish with their breast sides up and roast for 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and leave to cool completely.
When cool, take the grouse out of the casserole and put this on the hob without washing it Make a mirepoix of the onion, carrot and celery and put to sweat and brown over a low heat in the pan, stirring from time to time.
Cut the strings and remove the bacon from the grouse. Discard the string but reserve the bacon. Pull the legs away from the body and cut through the joint to detach. Put these into a bowl. Cut down on both sides of the breastbone to detach the breast meat (The breasts are deep and you want to follow the contour of the ribcage with the knife all the way down to the point where it is attached to the stump of the wing. Cut through the joint to give you a neat breast portion with the wing bone still attached.) Put this breast meat with the legs. As you work blood and juices will run out; scrape these into the bowl as you go along.
You should now have 8 breasts, 8 legs, 4 carcasses, the meat juices and 8 pieces of bacon in the bowl. Transfer all the meat to a tray, putting the pieces of meat skin side up. Cut the bacon into lardons and scatter it over the top. Reserve the meat juices in the bowl.
Chop the carcasses into small pieces with a cleaver and add to the mirepoix. Turn up the heat to medium and brown, stirring and scraping, before pouring in the buttery meat juices from the bowl. Add the sugar and vinegar and cook briskly, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until caramelized.
Add the red wine, port or Madeira if using, the juniper berries and cracked pepper. Turn the heat to high and bubble briskly until almost all the liquid has evaporated (you must not leave the dish at this point), stirring until you have achieved a syrupy consistency.
Pour over just enough water nearly to cover the bones. (If you have chicken stock, use it instead but it is not vital.) Simmer until reduced by half, then top up with cold water again. Reduce again, this time skimming off any scum or fat that rises to the surface. By the time the volume has reduced by half, the bones will have collapsed while the gravy will be dark and rich and full of flavour. Remove from the heat and allow to cool.
When cool, pass through a sieve into a clean pan, pressing on the bones to extract all moisture. Discard the bones.
Holding Point - ideally all this can be done the day before.
When ready to serve: bring the gravy to a boil and skim. If the resulting liquid is not syrupy enough, whisk in a teaspoon of potato flour dissolved in a tablespoon of water to thicken.
Put the sauce into the casserole and bring to a bare simmer over a low heat At this point add the legs and lardons of bacon and warm through for 2 minutes. Now place the breasts gently into the liquid, skin side up.
Add 55 g/ 2oz butter in small pieces and simmer until dissolved, shaking the pan with a rotating motion to speed the process. By the time the butter is incorporated the breasts will be just warmed through and ready to take to the table. On no account allow the sauce to boil at this stage or you will toughen the grouse.
Serve with plain boiled potatoes as a foil for the rich and glossy sauce.
© 1993 Alastair Little. All rights reserved.