In the pink

In the pink

Margaret Rand's taste buds were transported when she feasted on game dishes flavoured with whisky created by top chef David Chambers

Food | 16 Feb 2000 | Issue 8 | By Margaret Rand

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They serve 50 to 60 grouse a day at Rules, and about 60 pheasants. Chef director David Chambers likes to cook them "as pink as people will eat them" - and at Rules that's pretty pink. Indeed visitors thinking of booking a table at the top restaurant in London's Covent Garden should realise it's not a place to visit if you can't stand the sight of blood.Game, as every dram-drinking cook knows, has an affinity with whisk(e)y. So we asked Chambers to cook a game menu using whisky - and he opted for grouse, grouse, grouse all the way. Monotonous? Not a bit of it. The terrine uses smoked grouse wrapped in the brightest, greenest, most briefly-blanched cabbage you've ever seen. For the pudding Chambers shaped a chocolate mousse with a couple of spoons until it more or less ressembled a bird, added a pair of chocolate wings, a sauce made with Famous Grouse, and a couple of raspberries to represent drops of blood. How far can you substitute other game for grouse in these recipes? Chambers's view is that you can't - if you do you will never get the same flavour. "Nothing tastes like grouse," he says. "Nothing smells like grouse when it comes out of the oven. But you could treat wild duck in the same way as the roast grouse. "I don't hang young grouse. It's best eaten as soon as it's shot. I've been up on the moors on 12 August, waiting for a brace, and then cooked them and eaten them in the garden that day. They're fantastic that way. Old grouse I'd hang for a week or two, and pheasant is best well hung. I hang mallard for a few days, as well."

When I lunched one summer Sunday with Chambers and his wife, the chef chose young grouse. He was cooking at home, a place where every square inch of wall is covered with momentos and awards and where, unlike at Rules, he has to do it all himself. There's something reassuring about watching a top chef working in a normal domestic kitchen; his may be better equipped than most, but it's no bigger. And his wife Helena, when she came in, wisely left him to it, preferring to pour the wine for us all.When it comes to adding whisky to these dishes, Chambers's advice is not to be too heavy-handed. He chose a peaty malt for the roast grouse, but if you don't want your dinner to smell like a peat kiln, add just a few drops and then reduce it. "If you just add whisky without reducing it you get rawness. The ideal is more concentration, but less quantity," he advises. In the pudding, The Famous Grouse works because it's subtle, and not peaty. You want a bit of sweetness in the whisky here, and as long as you don't mind sacrificing the wit you could substitute another brand. In the mousse itself only the mildest whisky, such as a Lowland malt, will do.

Terrine of smoked grouse and pheasant

Serves 6, generously


  • 1 large Savoy cabbage

  • iced water

  • 50cl duck fat (available in tins from good delicatessens)

  • 3 large or 6 small shallots, finely diced

  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed

  • 1 supermarket pack of fresh thyme, chopped

  • 2 whole smoked grouse breasts

  • 2 whole smoked pheasant breasts (smoked grouse and pheasant breasts are available from specialist smokeries, or from Harrods, or Allens of Mount Street, London W1)

  • 100g cooked mushroom duxelles

  • 100g sun-dried tomatoes

  • Salt and pepper to taste

  • Peaty whisky to taste


  • 10cl balsamic vinegar

  • 30cl beef stock

1. Remove damaged leaves from cabbage. Select several large outer leaves to line the mould: blanch them in boiling water, then refresh in iced water. Trim the stalks, then place the leaves flat between two clean tea towels. Flatten them out with a rolling pin. Shred the remaining cabbage, and cook for longer: the shredded cabbage should be slightly overcooked. Refresh it in iced water in the same way.
2. Lay out enough cling film to line the mould and brush it with duck fat, then line the mould with the cling film so that the unfatted side touches the metal. (If you don't have a terrine mould you could make individual terrines in ramekins.)
3. Cook the shallots, garlic and thyme in enough duck fat to cover, in a heavy-bottomed pan. Take the shredded cabbage and squeeze out the water, then place in a pan with enough duck fat to cover, and simmer for 30 minutes. Allow to cool at room temperature. Allow to drain in a colander for one hour. Do the same with the mixture of shallots, garlic and thyme.
4. Line the mould with the large cabbage leaves, leaving a good overlap for the top. Layer the terrine as follows, brushing each layer liberally with whisky, and seasoning each layer as you go: 1cm shredded cabbage, 1cm shredded grouse, 2tbsp duck fat, 3mm shallots, 1cm shredded pheasant, 3mm mushroom duxelles (finely chopped mushrooms sweated in butter), 3mm tomatoes. Then repeat until full. The terrine must be overflowing. Fold the cabbage leaves over the top of the terrine, place a heavy weight on top and leave overnight. Carefully remove from the mould and cut into thick slices (it is easier to remove the cling film after cutting).
5. Make the dressing: mix the balsamic vinegar and beef stock, reduce by boiling down to three-quarters until it becomes thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, and add a few drops of peaty whisky to taste. Serve on a bed of mixed leaves. Just before serving, brush the terrine with the dressing.

Roast young grouse with white boudin (white pudding), confit of red cabbage and fondant potatoes

Serves 4


  • 25cl grouse sauce

  • 4 whole French boudins blancs

  • 4 young grouse

  • salt, pepper

  • 60g unsalted butter

  • 240g braised red cabbage

  • 4 baking potatoes

  • 10cl vegetable oilFor garnish (optional)

  • 2 carrots

  • vegetable oil for frying

1. You will need to have the basic sauce prepared in advance, ready for the grouse carcasses and the final reduction.
2. Prepare the boudins blancs by blanching them lightly and skinning them. Season birds inside and out, smear the breasts with a little butter, and place in a preheated roasting tray on their sides. Seal the birds well by browning them very quickly, and place them in a pre-heated oven at 220˚C. Cook for five minutes each side. Allow to rest in a warm place for ten minutes.
3. Remove the grouse breasts from the bone, then cut up the carcasses and use them to make the sauce - see recipe. Let the grouse breasts rest in a warm oven while you finish the sauce, it shouldn't take more than half an hour. While the sauce is reducing, cut the boudins blancs in half and brown them lightly in a non-stick pan with a little butter.
4. Then divide the cabbage between four hot plates in a nice pile; place the braised potatoes alongside. Put the grouse on top of the cabbage so that it catches the juices of the birds, and sit the boudin on top of the grouse. Pour the sauce around the edge of the plate. Our photographs show the dish garnished with deep-fried ribbons of carrot. If you want to try this, peel a couple of carrots and cut into fine strips, then fry until crisp. However, the dish works perfectly well without.

Grouse sauce

Serves 4, generously


  • 4 finely chopped shallots

  • 2 finely chopped small carrots

  • 1 stick celery, finely chopped

  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed

  • 1 sprig fresh thyme

  • 6 juniper berries, crushed

  • 6 white peppercorns, crushed

  • 10ml red wine vinegar

  • 75ml ruby port

  • whisky to taste, Chambers used an Irish malt

  • 4 grouse carcasses

  • 200ml strong game stock or 400ml beef stock, reduced by half

  • 200ml veal jus, or 800ml chicken stock reduced by three-quarters

  • 25g unsalted butter, diced

In a heavy saucepan lightly brown the shallots, carrots, celery and garlic. Add the thyme, juniper berries and pepper. De-glaze with the vinegar and reduce to a syrup. Add the port and whisky and reduce by three-quarters. You can do all this in advance. Add the cut-up grouse carcasses and the stocks, and bring to a simmer. Skim, and reduce by half over an even heat. Pass through a fine strainer, place in a clean pan and gradually add the cubes of butter, mixing it in by moving the pan backwards and forwards. Do not whisk: if you do you will whisk air in and the sauce will lose its sheen. Also, do not boil the sauce: you will make it cloudy.

Pommes fondant

Serves 4


  • 4 baking potatoes

  • 200cl strong cider (whisky will be too strong here)

  • 100g butter

  • salt, pepper

Peel the potatoes, then cut them into shape as follows: cut a 3-3.5 mm slice out of the middle. With a paring knife, shape it into an oval, keeping the flat bottom and top. Cut this way it browns beautifully top and bottom. Reduce the cider by half in a heavy-bottomed pan. Season the potatoes, and lay them in another heavy-bottomed pan with half the butter underneath and half on top. Place on the heat until the butter is bubbling and starting to turn brown. Turn the potatoes over, add the hot cider and braise in an oven heated to 180˚C until tender - approximately 20 minutes.

Spiced red cabbage

Serves 4, generously

30g goose fat (available in tins from good delicatessens)
0.75 kilos sliced red cabbage
25ml red wine vinegar
25g brown sugar
half a tsp of five-spice powder
100ml red wine
2 pippin apples, cored and sliced salt and pepper to taste

Heat the goose fat in a heavy-bottomed oven-proof pan, and sweat the cabbage with the lid on. Add the vinegar, sugar and spice, and reduce on a fast heat, stirring all the time. Add the wine and cook in the oven, stirring occasionally, from an hour to 90 minutes. When the cabbage is three-quarters cooked, add the apples; season and cook until really soft and confit-like.

Chocolate and Famous Grouse mousse

Serves 4, generously

For the mousse

  • 175g dark chocolate

  • 40ml Famous Grouse

  • 175ml double cream

  • 2 medium eggs

  • 40g caster sugar

For wings

  • 200g dark chocolate

For the bitter chocolate sauce

  • 90g sugar

  • half tsp liquid glucose (available from chemists)

  • 25cl water

  • 35g cocoa powder

  • 125g dark chocolate, chopped

For the Famous Grouse sauce

  • 90g sugar

  • ¼ tsp liquid glucose

  • 35 ml water

  • Famous Grouse mixed half-and-half with water

First make the mousse: melt the chocolate in a double boiler, or in a saucepan or bowl inside another saucepan of hot water. Warm the whisky.
Whip the cream to ribbon stage, and chill. Whisk the eggs and sugar over heat to form a sabayon. When this is ready, stir the whisky into the melted chocolate, fold in the sabayon in two stages, and finally fold in the cream. Pour into a shallow dish and allow to set. To make wings for your chocolate grouse, melt some dark chocolate and spread on a sheet of baking parchment and allow to cool. Cut out wing shapes and peel off parchment.
For the bitter chocolate sauce: put the sugar, glucose and half the water over heat until lightly caramelised. Add the rest of the water, bring back to the boil, add the cocoa and the chocolate, and stir over a low heat until smooth.
For The Famous Grouse sauce: heat the sugar, glucose and water until lightly caramelised and light gold in colour. Add the whisky and water mix to taste.
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