When cool air causes the maples to shiver and blush brilliantly in the landscape of the Northwoods, upland hunters head out. Traversing woodlands, brush and brambles, they know this season.

Similarly, the season offers an opportunity to honor the glorious admiral of the green sea when the harvest is prepared and shared. In my kitchen, dishes enjoyed by a small clutch of family, or friends, often take the form of starter plates. I do this for two reasons: First, experience has taught that reluctant wild game eaters can be converted to big game plates if they are introduced to wild game flavor profiles slowly and on a graduated intensity-of-flavor scale. Second, by sharing and showcasing the deliciously simple flavors of wild sustainable meats, important dialogue is created around the table.

I serve non-hunters often, but when they taste wild food it immediately connects them to something primal. At first mouthful, they experience the flavor of the land, and hunting in a way they never imagined — why it is necessary to preserve public hunting lands, invest in creating and maintaining habitat for species such as ruffed grouse, and what motivates hunters. All of these are topics that come to the table as lively discourse.

There is something about breaking bread, putting good food in people’s bellies, and pairing it with good wine that creates community, fellowship — and empty wine bottles — like nothing else.

Grouse breasts on the chopping block before smoking.

In keeping with the upcoming upland season, here’s a recipe for a rustic smoked grouse pizza, with pear, arugula, shallot, gruyere cheese and a blackberry drizzle. The smoky character of the grouse, the accompanying peppery bite of arugula, tang of BBQ sauce, and sweetness of blackberry drizzle makes for a mouth-watering appetizer sure to delight your guests, and encourage great conversation.

P.S. Never mind the geometry of your pie — only taste matters!

Ingredients for the pizza.

Ingredients:

  • 1 smoked grouse breast, meat removed
  • 1 tablespoon BBQ sauce
  • Fresh pizza dough
  • 1/2 red pear thinly sliced
  • 1 1/2 heaping cups arugula
  • 1 shallot sliced thin
  • 1 crushed garlic clove
  • 3/4 cup shredded Gruyere cheese
  • 1/2 pint blackberries
  • 2 tablespoons fresh orange juice
  • olive oil
  • cracked salt and pepper
Smoked grouse breast wrapped in streaky bacon with sprigs of rosemary.

Method:

In a small pan, over medium heat, combine blackberries, (reserving a few for garnish), with orange juice. Simmer until berries are soft. Pour mixture into a small strainer or sieve, then push through to remove seeds. Return to pan and reduce juice by about 1/3. Whisk cooled juice with a bit of olive oil, salt and pepper to make the sauce. Set aside.

When you are ready to make the pizza, preheat your oven to 450 degrees. If you like to bake on a pizza stone, by all means use it. I don’t have one, so I bake on a preheated cast iron flat griddle instead.

Grab your pizza dough and roll, pull and stretch until you have a workable shape and a desired thickness. I do this on the back of a lightly-floured jelly roll pan to ease slipping into the oven and onto the cast iron griddle.

Drizzle dough with olive oil and use crushed garlic clove as a brush to coat. Crack a little salt across the top and scatter with some herbs if you like.

Smoked grouse meat drizzled with BBQ sauce.

Toss the pulled smoked grouse breast with BBQ sauce to coat lightly.

Spread arugula, pear and shallots over the crust. Add pulled grouse and shredded Gruyere. Slip carefully off the pan and onto the hot stone or griddle. Bake until crust is golden and cheese is bubbly.

Rustic grouse pizza fresh from the oven.

Top the pizza with blackberry reduction and then serve.

Rip it, tear it, cut it up. No matter the method, it’s delicious.

About the Author: Raised a Minnesota farm-girl in a hunting family, Krissie Mason (below) is an outdoorswoman, food enthusiast, and has been reconnecting with her culinary country roots and family hunting traditions of late. She is the brains and brawn behind Scratch + Holler media, and a regular contributor to several outdoor websites. Krissie fully supports a field-to-fork wild food chain, and especially enjoys expanding pantries and stretching wild game palates with her ambitious and delicious wild game recipes. Be sure to visit Krissie’s website to check out her blog and much more.

Images by Krissie Mason

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