Food preparation and photography/ Gordon Hamersley
Chefs around the world are a generous lot with their recipes. We tend to be curious and hunger for new ideas or variations on familiar themes. So when my good friend and fellow chef Joanne Linehan checked in last winter with news from Yaak, Montana, the tiny community where she lives with her husband Tim, I was eager to hear what she’d been cooking.
She described the winter landscape beautifully with rich images of the stark cold that engulfs the northern Rockies in January:
“Unfortunately, they got it right this morning. It’s 7:30 a.m., still essentially dark outside, or at least there’s no distinction between the white line of snow and the tree line just yet, and it’s 12 degrees. What I notice most about deep winter is how little light we get up here.
“And it’s unbelievably quiet. Occasionally you’ll hear the irritated squawk of a raven, or if the sun shines for even a brief hour or two, the chitter of a pine squirrel who I can only assume is as surprised and delighted by the idea of warmer temperatures as I am.
“It is the heart of winter here in Yaak; even our bird dogs spend little time outside. Most days they’re curled up next to the woodstove. We try to run them every day, but sometimes the snow is too deep and it’s too cold. Often they’ll awake and bolt through the door with anticipation only to stand in the driveway with one paw in the air and a look of stunned disappointment at how cold the ground feels.
“When the days get shorter and temps begin to drop, Tim and I find we crave hearty soups, stews and chowders. One of our favorites is grouse chowder with leeks, morels and wild rice, and it’s in our regular rotation. We had a freezer full of birds (bags of bird parts for stock and breasted ruffed, blue and spruce grouse), Mason jars of dried morels we picked earlier in the spring and a case of wild rice sent to us by guests from the Midwest who fished with us in July. We had not been to town in over two weeks, so milk and cream were not an option, so a tomato-based chowder was the only option. We make a large batch, as it gets even better on days 2, 3 and 4!”
I made her recipe the next day in Connecticut, as it was pretty darn frigid here, too. I did take exception to her use of the word chowder for this recipe, and I told her so. You see in New England, chowder is made with milk and potatoes. The soup they make with tomatoes to our south in Manhattan is quite simply misnamed. But hell, Joanne’s from Montana via Florida, so we’ll give her a mulligan on the title. What’s important is that her soup is outstanding!
Mise en Place:
To prepare for cooking, chefs often utilize the concept of mise en place, which means “to set into place” a recipe’s ingredients prior to starting. You can help Chef Hamersley prepare by suggesting ingredients you’d like him to set into place. Here’s how:
1. Look through your pantry to find a maximum of five “legitimate” ingredients you think might work well in a game bird recipe.
2. Send a list of those ingredients in an email with the Subject: In Place to firstname.lastname@example.org.
3. From time to time, Chef Hamersley will select an entry and create a dish out of some or all of the ingredients (plus add some of his own, of course).
1 teaspoons cooking oil (like canola)
6 ounces smoked bacon, diced into ½-inch pieces
1 medium leek, diced and well washed and drained
2 medium carrots, diced
2 celery stalks, washed and diced
1 teaspoon dried rosemary
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
2 bay leaves
¾ cup wild rice
1-14.5 ounce can chopped tomatoes
1 ½ cups red wine
8 cups game bird stock or chicken stock
2 tablespoons butter
2 ruffed grouse or other game birds, breasts cut from the bone and reserved (bones and legs used for a future recipe)
2 ounces dried morels or other dried wild mushrooms, reconstituted in hot water, drained and blotted dry, soaking liquid reserved
3-4 tablespoons chopped parsley
In a soup pot, heat 1 teaspoon of canola oil and add the diced bacon. Lower the heat to medium-low and cook until brown and crispy, stirring often, about 12-15 minutes. Remove the bacon pieces from the pot and drain on paper towels. Reserve.
Pour off all but 3 tablespoons of fat from the pot. Add the fennel seeds and cook for 1 minute. Add the leek, carrots and celery and cook over medium heat for 6-8 minutes, stirring. Then add the rosemary, bay leaves and wild rice. Stir to combine and cook for 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes, red wine, game bird or chicken stock and mushroom liquid. Bring to a boil. Lower the heat to a simmer and cook for about 45-50 minutes or until the rice is tender. Add salt and pepper to taste and keep warm. (Note: The soup should bubble very gently at this point. Add more stock or water if the broth has reduced too much.)
When ready to serve, heat the butter in a large sauté pan over medium heat until it sizzles. Sprinkle the reserved grouse breasts with salt and black pepper and add to the pan. Cook over medium heat until golden brown. Flip the breasts over and continue cooking until the breasts are just done. About 3-4 minutes per side for grouse and more for larger birds. Remove the breasts from the pan and let rest while finishing the dish.
Add the morels and the reserved bacon to the pan. Continue to cook until the mushrooms and bacon are warm and crispy. Season with salt and pepper if needed.
To serve, ladle the soup into warm bowls. Cut the grouse breasts into bite-sized pieces and add to the soup. Spoon the morel and bacon mixture over the top and sprinkle with chopped parsley.
(Adapted from a recipe by Joanne Linehan, co-owner of Linehan Outfitting Company, Yaak, Montana.)
Gordon Hamersley is a New England-based chef, cookbook author and culinary educator. He serves as an advisor to Future Chefs, a non-profit that prepares Boston teens for jobs in the culinary field.