The drive up the mountains is filled with autumn’s vibrant colors juxtaposed against a brilliant blue sky. My window is down, just slightly though as the temperatures are cooling. I often find myself taking in deep breathes; savoring the moments as much as possible and feeling the sensation of the wind and the warmth of the sun against my cheeks. It’s reassuring to know these moments will carry throughout the entire day, for today I am joining a hunting team in search of grouse, or rype in Norwegian. And the lush, open wilderness will be our surroundings.
I find myself edging closer to my destination: an unobtrusive cabin settled into the native landscape. When I arrive, I am greeted by the graceful and ever-stunning Sirikit and her pack of delightful and enthusiastic pointer dogs. In the doorframe hangs an earlier catch, it’s elegant poise catching my eye.
As I enter the cozy cabin, I am greeted by Lars, Sirikit’s partner in life and in the hunt. A tea towel is hanging across his shoulder as he makes his way from the kitchen. A delightful and earthy aroma permeates through the room and he announces that dinner tonight will be his version of rypebryst i saus, grouse breasts with a creamy sauce. I’m only more than happy to oblige in an invitation to dinner after our hunt.
Lars takes down the earlier catch from the doorframe to account for one more person (me) for dinner. He shows me the difference between a male and a female and an adult and an adolescent before guiding me to the kitchen to teach me how to clean it.
He removes the head and wings, and simply peals away the feathers, almost like slipping off a coat. I’m surprised at how easy it is. Immediately we see intact bilberries (blåbær) and crowberries (krekling), revealing the diet of this bird, like all the grouse in the area. He moves away the organs and filets the breasts. He keeps as much of the meat as possible, including the carcass, to be used in the stew. The stew will cook slowly, in time for our return.
Following a light lunch of smoked salmon, eggs, bread, and tea, we gather our things and make our way outside of the cabin. Only two dogs will be joining the hunt today, Føyka and Lerka. When I ask about the names, Sirikit explains the term føyka describes when the wind blows so hard the snow swirls around, so in a way the dog is like an intense wind. Lerka means a small bird and the name was granted to her by a friend who always had a hunting dog with the name. It was when that friend decided to stop having hunting dogs that Sirikit asked to inherit the name and was gladly granted the use.
The dogs can hardly keep their excitement, but Sirikit reigns them in. She’s their trainer after all, and she is very skilled at it. In fact, she trains all the dogs and enjoys partaking in competitions around the country. She finds the challenge, the relationships, and the successes of the dogs very rewarding. It typically takes one and half years for the dog to be fully trained and ready for the hunt.
Lars is the head hunter. He holds the gun safely in one hand as we walk only a few minutes to reach the start of the terrain. Lars has been hunting for a long time and he’s very good at it. And not just in the sense that he’s a good shot, which he is, but that he puts the safety of the team first and foremost and has immense respect for the animals and surrounding nature. He explains how important it is that everyone in the group feels comfortable and safe and how the only way to approach hunting is in an ethical and sustainable way.
They typically hunt once in the morning and once at night during the permitted hunting season, which begins 10 September and concludes on the 28 February (or 15 March for Northern Norway) . They explain it is better to hunt when there is some moisture on the ground, providing a higher concentration of odors for the dogs to smell. Scent survives longer in the cooler conditions found in the evening or early morning hours because lower temperatures will tend to bring the scent back down to ground level.
Soon, the dogs are taken off their leashes and they run with an energy that has been building up and bubbling inside. It’s a combination of finding the prey and having fun, and you can see it in the dog’s faces as they zoom past. I can’t help but be taken away by the simple splendor all around me. Hues of red, orange, brown, white, and green cover our path. Each step in cushioned against a bed of moss or the branches of low bushes. Bilberries and crowberries are all around us and I often bend down to grab a few for a bit of nourishment. Lingonberries are also dotted around and Sirikit grabs some for tonight’s dinner. The terrain is steep as some points, but also flat in others. Not far in the distance is Hardangervidda National Park and you can see the peaks and plateaus off in the distance. It seems almost to good to be true, so I take as much of it in as I can, sometimes forgetting why we are out here in the first place.
But then I am reminded when there’s a quick scurry and Sirikit calls me over. We head toward Lars who is positing himself nearby one of the dogs. If you’ve seen a pointer dog in action, you’ll understand where its name comes from. The tail stiffens and arches upwards, the nose and body pointing toward the birds. Everything and everyone is still for a brief moment and then Lars makes the call and the dog lunges forward. The birds fly upwards and Lars takes the shot. One of the birds begin to descend, the others earnestly fly away. Lars and Sirikit instruct the dog to gather the fallen bird and bring it back to them. She’s still learning and runs around looking for a little before finding the grouse. With the grouse in her mouth, she quickly and proudly brings it to Lars.
Lars examines the grouse’s wings and tells me it is an adolescent. He tucks it into his backpack and everyone regains themselves and carries on walking. I should point out before going any further that Sirikit, Lars, and the dogs have scouted this area for a long time. They have a kinship with the grouse living in the area. They know the families, and their typical movements and favorite places to stay. They hunt with intention. And by that, I mean they don’t just shoot at every bird they get the chance to, but rather the ones they know are old enough and where it won’t cause too much disruption within the family unit.
We carry on walking. Hours pass by. Stories are shared. The terrain changes underfoot, sometimes unexpectedly. One moment it’s soft moss, the next is a slippery stone or a wet marsh. The dogs have a couple of more successful finds, but as nature would have it, no good shots. We take a break high atop. Lars places the gun safely on a large stone and leans backwards. Sirikit takes out mats for me and her to sit on. The dogs get a treat and a well-needed rest. Sirikit pulls out a thermos full of homemade ginger tea, which she passes around. We sit, still and quiet, gazing out into the distance. Sirikit hands me a slice of kling (lefse with butter and sugar) from Uvdalsleiven Bakeri. It tastes so good and seems to boosts everyone’s spirits before we head out a little longer.
Before we conclude our time, the dogs find one last group of grouse. Lars has a successful shot and we head back to the cabin with a total of two grouse from the afternoon’s hunt.
Off in the distance, a rainbow has formed. A beautiful conclusion to our time on the mountains, reminding us of our relationship to this dynamic earth and how so much beauty lies in the subtleties and moments.
When we arrive back at the cabin, Sirikit takes the rest of the dogs out for a walk and Lars heads into the kitchen. The aroma from the stew is even stronger and I hear my stomach grumble. It’s Friday and Lars pours each of us a glass of prosecco.
I ask him more questions about hunting and he shows me where they store the grouse they have caught this season. He explains the 4 and 10 rule – store the birds at 4 degrees Celsius for 10 days or at 10 degrees Celsius for 4 days. I’m even more impressed when he tells me you can freeze a whole bird, feathers and all, for years.
Sirikit and the dogs return and we swap a few more stories while Lars does the finishing touches on his grouse sauce. I rest my legs and sit at the table, the dogs finding their places on the couch. The sun has almost set and there’s a lovely orange haze coming through the windows. Overlooking the table is a large wooden moose sculpture, which Sirikit finds both obtrusive and lovely at the same time. It came with the cabin, she says, so it stays in the cabin.
The sun has set before we know it and Sirikit has lit the candles, illuminating the room. The fireplace flickers fiercely nearby and everything about the place is koselig. Lars presents us with plates of seared grouse breasts, the creamy grouse sauce, green beans, and boiled potatoes. We toast to a successful afternoon and dive in. The taste of the grouse is slightly sweet and earthy. The meat is so tender and fresh, it practically melts with each bite. We finish our meal and cap it all off with a cup of coffee and dark chocolate. After a few more tales, we say our goodbyes and I drive down the mountain. The bright blue sky now dark with only the twinkling of the stars to guide my way.
Tusen takk Sirikit, Lars, and the dogs ♥
Lar’s doesn’t have his recipe for grouse breasts in a creamy sauce written down with exact measurements, but here is an inspired version. And apologies for there not being any photos of the final dish. It was just too dark to capture it in the right way, but I can vouch for its amazing taste!
Lar’s Seared Grouse Breasts with a Creamy Sauce
- 4 grouse (1 per person)
- 1½ cups (360 ml) water
- ¾ cup + 1 Tb (200 ml) red wine
- 1¼ cups (3 dl) sour cream
- 8 juniper berries, crushed
- 3 to 4 slices brown cheese
- 1 tablespoon sugar (or a little port wine or blackcurrant cordial)
- Salt and pepper
- 3½-ounces (100 g) bacon, cut in small pieces
- 7 ounces (200 g) mushrooms, cut in small pieces
- 2 tablespoons butter, for frying
Start by preparing and cleaning the grouse. Clip the wings and feet, and remove the feathers. Cut away the breasts and set aside in the refrigerator for later.
Place the hearts, thighs, livers, stone stacks (stones removed), and carcasses in a large, heavy-bottomed pot. Pour in the water and red wine. Add in the sour cream, crushed juniper berries, slices of brown cheese, sugar, and some salt and pepper. Simmer on low for 1 to 2 hours.
Fry the bacon and mushrooms in a large skillet, until the bacon is crispy and the mushrooms are soft. Add to the sauce 15 minutes before serving to let the flavors infuse.
Right before serving, melt the butter in the skillet over high heat, until foaming. Add the grouse breasts and sear for 1 to 2 minutes, turning once. They need to be pink inside. Alternatively brown the side of the breasts and place in the oven on low heat.
To serve, remove the carcasses from the sauce. Taste a little and add more salt and pepper as desired. Place the breasts on individual plates and pour some of the sauce over. Serve with boiled potatoes, a vegetable of choice (brussels sprouts, asparagus, green beans or broccoli) and crushed fresh lingonberries (or cranberries) mixed with sugar. You can also serve with Russian peas.