A stalking we will go … Philippa hears the Caul of the Wild

travfoodmenu-scotgrouse2“Where you off to next?”

“I’m off to cook for a stalking week.”

“Stalking? What’s that, sounds dodgy?” said my friend.

“Well…. it’s where you head into the hills dressed in tweeds, cashmere and Barbours, crawl around in the mud and heather and scramble over rocks and walk for absolutely miles from sun up to sun down, hoping to spot, stalk, then shoot a stag”

“Oh, I see… that sounds exhausting! Do they always get a stag?”

“Er.. no, not always”

“So essentially then they could just be walkers”

“Well yes, I guess…but much better dressed”.

When cooking for these stalking weeks you don’t have to hit the ground running, you have to hit the ground with the speed and power of a hunting panther, then maintain the pace all week. I love it.

The weather, as always in Scotland, was spectacularly indecisive. We had everything from bright sunshine to thick silent fog, rainbows and rain … and that was just Monday morning.

Arriving at Inverness airport I picked up the hire car and started heading north, dashing into shops along the way to do a serious larder stock at the speed of light – you are never sure where your nearest shop will be. The only major obstacle on the first day is finding the lodge you are meant to be cooking at. They are generally in the middle of nowhere with drastically beautiful surroundings but harder to find than the lost city of Atlantis.travfoodmenu-scotgrouse

You can’t enter the lodges (when rented) till about 4pm, then it’s straight in the kitchen to unpack, check out the equipment and get supper on the go. This frenzy of activity continues for the rest of the week with hearty breakfasts, big table spreads for guests to take as “pieces” (pack lunches) on the hill, afternoon teas then three or four-course dinners.

Some of my favourite things I cooked that week were a beef rib roast that could have been taken from a dinosaur and a roast chicken that was 6 kilos – when I told my mother this she said, “Yes darling, it’s called a turkey,”

Without a doubt however the most exciting part of the week was being bought brought back the caul fat off the stag – as beautiful and impressive as a piece of Sophie Hallette lace, this intricate fatty membrane surrounds the stomach.

Most game does not have much fat to it (think pheasant/venison/grouse etc) so chefs will often cook it in pork or goose fat. I have always tried to avoid this as I find it’s just too bawdy in comparison; caul fat, I have decided, is really the perfect one to go for. Its gentle gaminess is definitely “of the hill” and there is that great satisfaction of using as much of the beast as possible.

travfoodmenu-scotgrouse4For this recipe I will share with you a dish I whipped up the night the stalkers bought back the caul fat from the wild:

Grouse breasts coated in hazelnuts and fried in caul fat with chanterelles and parsley

Serves 4

8 grouse breasts
a piece of caul fat approximately 15cm x 15 cm
100g ground hazelnuts
100ml milk
1 egg
200g chanterelles cleaned and ready to use
1 small clove of garlic finely chopped
1 tbs roughly chopped parsley

Beat the egg into the milk. Dip the grouse breasts into the milk/egg mix then remove and shake of any excess liquid. Dip into the ground hazelnuts.

In a frying pan render the caul fat down on a low heat for about 10  – 15 minutes – lots of lovely fat should melt into the pan. Turn up the heat and fry the hazelnut-coated breasts for just over a minute each side.

Take out the pan and put aside to rest. Remove the caul fat, turn up the heat then add the chanterelles.

Fry for a minute then add the chopped garlic. Fry for a further minute then add the parsley

Serve the grouse breasts on a warm plate with a few chanterelles scattered on top.

This would be delicious as a lunch and served with an autumnal salad or for dinner served with greens and mashed potatoes.

Fine more of chef Philippa Davis’s postcard recipes at www.philippadavis.com