Grouse is game bird native to Scotland and is mostly found in the wilds of Scotland as well as in Northern Ireland and on the heaths of northern England. It has the darkest meat of the game birds with a rich red, almost maroon flesh and it has an intensely deep flavour to go with it.
Grouse is one of the most popular game birds and is widely available during the shooting season which starts on 12 August (the “Glorious Twelfth”) and runs through to 10 December each year.
Grouse are wild birds so they should all be of good quality, however, how they are handled after shooting can affect their quality. Good quality birds will be plump, with unblemished and fresh-looking deep red skin. The younger the bird, the better the flesh. A pliable breastbone, feet and legs, as well as sharp claws, indicate that a grouse isn’t mature.
First, you need to remove the wishbone. Pull back the skin from the neck cavity to expose the entrance, cut around it with a small, sharp knife and snip the bone free at the bottom. Then cut the grouse’s wings and legs at the second joint – this makes for a neater-looking bird. Wipe the outside of the bird and inside the cavity with kitchen paper. Season inside with salt and pepper, then push in some flavourings – try some sage leaves or sprigs of thyme or slices of lemon or apple. Tie the legs together with string and season the skin all over, brushing with soft butter or oil. You can also wrap the breast with pancetta or Parma ham to prevent it from drying out. As these birds are shot in the wild, some quantity of lead shot in the meat is inevitable.
Keep the birds in the fridge, on a tray, covered with foil or greaseproof paper for up to two days. Make sure they are on the bottom shelf so that its juices don’t contaminate any other food; it’s particularly important to keep the grouse away from any other cooked meats in the fridge.
It’s best to roast young birds. They are quite small so you’ll need to allow one bird per one person. As roasting young grouse does not take long, they can take as little as 20 minutes to cook, you can prepare most accompaniments in advance. Try wrapping the grouse breasts in bacon (to keep them moist) and serve the meat cooked in its own juices.
Although older birds pack in more flavour, they are tougher and so better suited to slow cooking in a casserole or stew. Braise the bird, or pot-roast, in a mix of stock and good quality red wine for around 45 minutes (actual cooking time will depend on the age of the bird). Always allow the bird to cool in the stock to help lock in moisture – you can keep the birds whole, or joint them.
Traditionally grouse is served with simple bread sauce and game chips. However, grouse works well with sweet berries and red fruits. Start the season by pairing grouse with blackcurrants and blackberries, then figs and plums in the autumn, and finally prunes or slow-cooked quinces in the winter.
See a collection of game recipes here