Grouse appears to be the only game bird that can’t be farmed. I mean here the famous red grouse – breeding in the upland heather moors of the UK. There are several other species living in North America, Siberia and Europe (ruffed grouse, spruce grouse and ptarmigan) but it’s the Scottish bird that is the greatest delicacy, shooting season starting on the Glorious Twelve, young game traditionally sent to the London Rules restaurant (the oldest game serving establishment) for the diners quivering in anticipation.
Grouse is game for grown-ups. For beginners, quail or guinea fowl will be a tame enough start. Intermediate gamers will enjoy partridge and pheasant lest it’s inexpertly dried out in the oven. Advanced gamers can indulge in wood pigeon (tasting like a cross between beef and liver) and wild mallard (delicious) - but grouse is hardcore.
It smells. It smells of wind and wild and decay. It smells before it’s cooked, whilst cooking and even after you’ve eaten it. It’s damn expensive and the meat tastes slightly bitter, the flesh clinging to the bones will be weirdly more cooked than on the outside and if you want to pick the bones cleanly worth of your tenner, there will be blood red juices dripping down your chin. It’s a food of gods.
It’s not strictly necessary to brine it – just chuck it in the oven for ten minutes, it won’t get too dry – but I was roasting a partridge as well and prepared the brine anyway (recipe courtesy of Hank the Hunter) so I thought I’d plunge the grouse in for a couple of hours. Result – it cooked more evenly and slightly quicker than without brining so reduce the times if you want that blood-dripping-down experience.