Grouse who's coming to dinner
Ten years ago I could say I'd never seen a ruffed grouse. I definitely had never tried to cook one. Then I moved to northern Minnesota.
My first peek at a ruffed grouse happened one day when I heard a loud crash against the living room window. There was the large speckled bird, lying dead on the ground. My neighbor came to fetch the feathered creature, affirming my suspicion that indeed it was a ruffed grouse. He grabbed the bird, took it home, cleaned it and brought me the meat. His wife told me how to cook it. I can't remember exactly how I prepared that poor bird, but I remember thinking it tasted like chicken.
Another year, as my husband and I traveled home from town, I was shaken from a daydream as something big hit the car window on my passenger side. Yes, it was a grouse. My husband, who had never killed a thing in his life, calmly pulled the car over to the side of the dirt road, got out of the car and as quick as a wink he had picked up that chubby bird by the head and, well, put it out of its misery, if you know what I mean. Not only that, he brought the bird home and cleaned it. We cooked it and had it for supper. I still can't believe that. But I do remember thinking it tasted like chicken.
For the last several years, ruffed grouse have been hanging out in the woods along my driveway. Each year at this time, I never fail to be alarmed when ruffed grouse suddenly surge up as I make the walk out to the road. This year, grouse greeted me every day for a couple of weeks as I made my trek down the driveway. But after not seeing them for the last several days, I decided they must have been eaten by a fox or maybe taken by a hunter's good aim. I'd been hearing local hunters mention they'd been having good luck this year with grouse.
The other day a generous hunter gave me the breasts from two grouse he had been storing in his freezer. He told me his favorite way to prepare grouse was to stir-fry bite-sized chunks of the meat with vegetables and then finish the cooking process by adding the meat and vegetables to a pot of cooking wild rice. Cutting the boneless breasts into chunks uncovers any tiny round shot pellets embedded in the flesh of the bird.
I took his idea and gave it my own twists. I always enjoy a good stir-fry meal. I like the vegetables to be crisp-tender, so opted not to add them to a pot of cooking rice. I feared they'd get too soft. I definitely liked the idea of serving the stir-fry meat and vegetables with wild rice.
I cut up an onion, a carrot and some peppers, and minced some garlic and gingerroot. They all contribute tantalizing texture and flavor to the white breast meat of the grouse. A simple sauce of chicken broth, catsup, sugar and vinegar offers a sweet and sour flavor to the dish. One tender, ripe Bosc pear stirred into the dish right at the end of cooking time adds a juicy sweet and spicy flavor, a perfect complement to the grouse and vegetables. If you like heat, add a splash of hot sauce. I added sriracha, a spicy sauce made of fresh chilies, garlic and vinegar. It's often found in the international aisle in grocery stores on shelves with the Asian foods.
The stir-fry dish is perfect with a blend of cooked wild rice and quinoa. Quinoa is a complete protein and is one of the oldest grains known.
As I heated up the wok, I noticed three grouse outside near the crabapple tree. Were they looking for their brother and sister? Oh, I should have used chicken.
'Tastes Like Chicken' Stir Fry
1/2 cup wild rice
1/2 cup red or white quinoa
5 cups chicken broth or water
2 tablespoons canola oil, divided
Breasts from 2 grouse, deboned, cut into bite-size chunks
2 chubby cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon minced peeled fresh gingerroot
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 carrot, sliced into thin diagonal rounds
1 red bell pepper, stem and seeds removed, cut into bite-size chunks
1 green pepper, stem and seeds removed, cut into bite-size chunks
1 medium onion, cut into small chunks
1 Bosc pear, stem and seeds removed, cut into bite-size chunks
1/2 cup chicken broth
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar
2 tablespoons catsup
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 1/2 teaspoons sesame seeds
Rinse wild rice and set aside. Rinse quinoa in a strainer under cool running water until water runs clear. Set aside. Fill a medium saucepan with 5 cups of water. Add the wild rice and bring to a boil over high heat. When it comes to a boil, add a large pinch of salt, turn the heat down and cover the saucepan. Simmer for 20 to 30 minutes. Add the quinoa and bring back to a simmer. Simmer, uncovered for 15 more minutes. Remove from heat, drain and set aside.
In a wok or large, deep skillet, heat 1 tablespoon canola oil. When oil is hot, add chunks of grouse, garlic, gingerroot and red pepper flakes. Stir-fry until grouse is cooked through, about 3 minutes. Transfer mixture from wok to a plate and set aside.
Add remaining tablespoon of oil to wok. When oil is hot, add sliced carrot. Stir fry 2 minutes, until crisp-tender. Add red and green peppers and onion and stir-fry for 2 to 3 more minutes. Add pear and cooked grouse and stir-fry to heat through. Add broth, black pepper, vinegar, sugar, catsup and soy sauce. Cook and stir until liquid is hot. Sprinkle with sesame seeds.
Serve immediately with cooked wild rice and quinoa. Makes 4 servings.
Tips from the cook
--Both red quinoa and the more common white quinoa are available in natural food stores and well-stocked supermarkets.
--If you don't have grouse, you can use pheasant, duck or wild turkey in this dish. Or chicken.