Every year, I lose my husband for a couple of weekends to a remote hunting shack surrounded by tamaracks. It’s strictly man camp – bunks, a generator, wood heat, outhouse. Yeah. An outhouse. Those things actually exist beyond the realms of state parks and campgrounds. He goes up alternately with family and friends, and on occasion, if the hunting is good, he comes home with grouse (or partridge, depending on where you’re from.)
A couple of nights after he came back, the sun slanted low through my west windows, reminding me it was dinner time. I opened the fridge and there it was. Middle shelf. Plastic bag. A speckled wing attached to a nice sized grouse breast. It had been sitting there for two days already. I knew where it came from, when and who shot it, and how thoroughly it had already been cleaned. And I didn’t want it to spoil, but you guys…
The wing was attached. (This is Minnesota DNR regulation for transporting game, lest you think my husband was just being mean.) And I was going to have to saw through the bone to get it off.
I’m an avid home cook, a farm girl, and a member of two families that hunt pheasant, turkey, grouse, and deer. I haven’t seen it all, but I’ve seen plenty. (Anyone else do puppet shows with dead pheasants? Cousin Angie, that may have just been us. Hm.)
It took me a while before I finally worked up the nerve to move the dead bird in the ziplock bag from the fridge to the cutting board. I stood there, knife in hand, unsure of what to do next.
I have the feeling I wouldn’t be alone in this. We like to talk organic and locally sourced. There’s something rustic and gratifying about farmers markets and roadside stands, and the way we feel when we pull out our reusable canvas bags and pass actual cash between hands.
But when push comes to shove, we want our vegetables symmetrical, our meat devoid of anything that makes it look like an animal, and our apples buffed to a bright red shine.
That’s not reality though, is it? In real life, those pink oval-shaped chicken breasts resided in a living, breathing chicken with feathers and a beak. Vegetables come from soil, sun, and crap (I’m sorry – I mean compost.) Real apples often carry marks of blight and beetles.
Somehow, we’ve divorced the ugly side of food.
We prefer the Stepford version of polish and wax and mechanical separation. So when I came face to face with a bird wing in my fridge, I wanted to shove it to the back and forget about it. Let four days pass, and then toss it on grounds of raw meat bacteria growth.
Whoops. Sorry honey.
Organic imperfection is inescapable. And somehow, we’re a little afraid of it. But we don’t have to be, if we can stop seeing marks of difference as imperfect. If we could trust that sometimes, imperfection is something God wants us to see, because it brings us past the thing itself and into the reasons behind it.
After all. Perfection is beautiful, but rarely does it teach us anything.
Meanwhile, I still had a dead bird on my cutting board, and the girls were getting curious about it. Feathers, mama? Birdie?
Yes sweetie. Feathers on a birdie. Birdie for supper.
It was time to get to work.
In reality, the dirty work took no more effort than slicing off the wing with a knife, which felt like cutting a toothpick. Suddenly, the grouse looked like a very small chicken. I took the rest of the meat off the rib cage, and put it in a gently simmering pan of chicken broth and garlic.
It took all of five minutes to cook, low and slow.
However, there wasn’t a lot of it. So I cut up some broccoli, chives, garlic, and parsley, and added that to the pan. I also added half a can of *wait for it* cream of chicken soup. We’re all about classy here. (Hey, after I posted a picture of my intended supper plans, a friend reminded me grouse can be dry.) I had bread dough in the fridge, so I rolled it out and cut the edges. Then I gently poured the meat mixture into the center of the dough, and overlapped the bread edges so that it looked like a braid.
Bada bing, bada boom. I cooked wild game.
Thirty minutes later, my tastebuds confirmed what my nose had been smelling. It was GOOD. It was REALLY good. The girls ate every last bite without complaint, and my husband got the satisfaction of seeing something he’d hunted provide food for his family.
And me? I conquered the wing.
Grouse and Broccoli Braid
2 grouse breasts (chicken would work too)
1 cup chicken broth
2 cloves garlic, pressed
1 cup broccoli
1/4 cup chopped parsley and chives
Half a can of cream of chicken soup
Bread dough (homemade, store-bought, or crescent rolls. Pick your jam. Just adjust your baking accordingly.)
1 egg yolk, 1 tbsp milk, 1/4 tsp salt for the egg wash (if using bread dough)
- Simmer breasts whole in the chicken broth and garlic just till cooked through.
- Remove from pan, dice into half inch cubes.
- Chop broccoli into bite sized pieces.
- Return meat to the pan. Add broccoli, herbs, and cream of chicken soup. Heat on low and mix to coat. Salt and pepper as needed. Remove from heat once coated. (Don’t overcook – the oven will finish it.)
- Roll out your bread dough into a long rectangle. Cut three to four inches into the edges, an inch or so apart, making a fringe of the dough. (Watch the pictures – they’ll make the most sense.)
- Pour the meat and sauce mix into the center of the rectangle, and wrap the fringe edges one over the other, bottom to top.
- Brush egg wash mixture over the bread dough. (no need if you’re using crescent roll dough.)
- Bake at 400 degrees for 30 minutes, or until nicely golden on top.
Or if you learn better by pictures…
1. Cook breasts whole, then chop, return to pan, and add veggies, herbs, and soup.
2. Roll out your dough, then cut the edges 3 to 4 inches on both sides. It looks a little like a skeleton. Pour meat mix into the center.
3. Here’s the fun part. Braid the bread. Just lay one piece over the other, diagonally working up. Tuck the bottom pieces under when you get to the top.
4. Finished braid. From here, brush with egg wash if you’re using real dough. No wash necessary if using crescent roll dough. Bake at 400 (or according to your bread package instructions) for 30 minutes or until golden.
5. Baked braid. Yes, it tastes as good as it looks.