Grousing about grouse
Not all chefs are equally adept at dealing with that undercarriage effect. In fact, the best and worst meals I had were roasted grouse.
Corrigan’s Mayfair, a luxurious contemporary space adorned with plumed lampshades, served an exquisite grouse. My lunch date and I raised a glass of Mourvèdre to the chef’s perfectly prepared fowl, which came already quartered rather than as a whole bird and was served with liver on toast and summer vegetables. The mild flavors in the tender, cherry-colored meat hinted at the animal’s country life without overpowering my senses.
While Corrigan’s delivered the essence of the fields with reserved elegance, Wiltons, a notable old-school establishment, catered to a more pungent palate. For those who prefer a stronger-tasting grouse, Wiltons served a full-bodied dish that had my taste buds demanding a deep cleanse after only half my meal.
This signature boldness, which many unsatisfied diners refer to as gamy, works both for and against the cuisine. But whether a game dish delights or disgusts depends largely on how it’s cooked. While one chef’s version of a seasonal bird might deliver a sucker punch, another’s can induce a state of food euphoria.
Andy Waugh, founder of the Wild Game Co., obsesses over getting the taste, texture and temperature of his gourmet sandwiches right so that he might open more mouths to game. He also understands that serving one bad burger at his stall could turn a person off to venison forever.
“People tell me, ‘Oh, I don’t like venison. I tried it once,’ ” he said in an interview at his London home.
The Wild Game Co., which won the 2012 Young British Foodies street food award, has converted skeptics into game lovers for more than three years with perfectly cooked burgers made with deer sourced from Waugh’s family game-dealing business in Scotland.
“This [deer] was literally hunted,” said Nick Brown, a shaggy-haired cook running the grill at the Wild Game Co. stall. “It’s about as ethical and sustainable as it gets.”
Wild game represents the ultimate in free-range and organic food. Game dealers harvest animals from forests and fields rather than raising them on industrial farms. In the case of venison, hunting helps control the overpopulation of an animal whose large numbers pose a hazard to drivers on highways and bring harm to agriculture and other wildlife. There’s no reason to get doe-eyed about eating deer. Culling the population and using its meat for food prevents disease and famine among the species, according to British conservationists.
Eating wild game weighs less not only on the social conscience but also on the bathroom scale. Protein-packed game has fewer calories and less cholesterol than its commercially cultivated cousins, according to nutrition experts. Wild birds and beasts live a more active life, grazing on what nature intended, than farm-raised chickens, pigs and cows, which are more sedentary and can be exposed to growth hormones and forced to eat animal byproducts.