Black grouse in hay

A recipe by Magnus Nilsson, taken from Faviken
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This is not really a recipe for a dish, more a description of a method of cooking larger cuts of meat, in this case a whole bird. Hay boxes were often used for cooking 60–90 years ago. The idea is that a large cut of meat is heated quite fiercely so that the surface reaches a high temperature, and the energy stored in the outer couple of centimetres is then used to cook the rest of the meat by putting it in a box insulated with hay. In the past this method was used mainly to save on fuel, but it can be seen as a precursor to the low-temperature cooking of today.

I like using this method mainly because the hay gives a delicious grassy, herbaceous flavour to the food. We usually brown the meat in a cast-iron casserole, then add the hay afterwards, so that the meat rests on hay and is completely surrounded by it, both on the sides and over the top. The lid is quickly put on and the stored energy in the metal of the casserole and in the surface layer of the bird itself cooks the bird before the whole thing cools down too much.

This method takes a while to perfect, but it’s also a great way of cooking less tender cuts that benefit from increased enzymatic activity resulting from the slowly rising temperature and the long cooking times. That time also creates a good opportunity to develop the aromas of a particular product: to a black grouse we add heather and some pine branches to the hay; to a piece of lamb we add extra herbs, such as wild thyme.

Serve it with a simple garnish and let the bird speak for itself.

Serves 6

Ingredients

1 black grouse, perfectly matured, plucked, gutted and at room temperature

soft butter, for cooking

a bunch of good-quality hay with a high herbal content

some branches of heather and pine

salt

Method

Brush the bird with a thin layer of butter and brown it in a heavy cast-iron casserole until nicely amber in colour all over. Take out the bird and keep it warm while you make a nest with the hay, heather and pine branches at the bottom of the hot casserole.

Put the bird back into the casserole and cover it well all around with hay, ensuring it is very tightly packed in. Put the lid on and leave it for a while to cook. Depending on the size of the bird and the amount of energy stored in the iron, the cooking time will vary. The easiest way to do it the first few times, when learning the method, is to place a thermometer in the casserole to keep track of what’s happening inside it, but do not open the lid more than is absolutely essential. When the bird is ready it will be slightly above 50°C (125°F)

Do not cook the bird more than medium rare and serve it as soon as it is cooked, otherwise it will acquire a mealy texture due to raised levels of enzymatic activity. When the bird is ready, take the lid off, remove the hay covering, take the bird out, remove any pieces of hay adhering to it, and carve it.

 

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Faviken

Fäviken is an exclusive insight into one of the world's most interesting restaurants: Fäviken Magasinet in Sweden. Narrative texts, photographs and recipes explain head chef Magnus Nilsson's remarkable approach to sourcing and cooking with ingredients that are farmed and hunted in the immediate vicinity of the restaurant, and how he creates a seasonal cycle of menus based on them.

Even though not everyone can visit Fäviken, Nilsson’s approach to working with ingredients in the most natural, intuitive way possible, and making the most of each season, will inspire all cooks and food-lovers to think differently about the ingredients that are available to them.

Many of the basic recipes for yoghurt, bread, porridge, vinegar, pickles and preserves are simple and straightforward enough for anyone to attempt at home, and the advice on natural preservation methods can be followed by anyone.

The text in Fäviken will provide inspiration for chefs and food-lovers all over the world and are fully accessible to the general reader.