The ‘Glorious twelfth’ - 12th August, is when the grouse season starts every year and lasts until 10th December. A short season and the best birds available for the table are between the start of the season and mid-October. The Red Grouse is a completely wild bird, rich brown in colour with spots of black and white across the male plumage, the hen has duller coloured feathers, but both have a bright red comb and feathery legs. A medium sized bird with short, broad wings, short tail and head with a curved beak, they are built like chickens, almost partridge like with plenty of meat on them. Other birds in the grouse family are the Black grouse, Capercailie and Ptarmigan. Red Grouse are native and resident all year round to heather moorland across the UK, but their numbers are dependent on the conditions within the moor to be able to provide food, shelter and nesting sites.
As long as you know how old the bird is, cooking is easy; younger birds are best roasted, allowing the gamey flavour to shine through, without the need for lots of seasoning or additional flavours. Allow one bird per person when roasting whole. Check them before buying, they shouldn’t smell ‘off’ in any way, they should be plump and not too shot all over. To tell how old the bird is, the younger they are, the more pliable the breast bone will be, as will the feet and legs, the claws should still be sharp. Older birds are best used in casseroles and stews.
Before roasting, smear butter over the breasts then season and wrap bacon across the top, to save them drying out. Roast in a hot oven for approximately 20-30 minutes, depending on how big they are and how pink you like your meat, don’t overcook as they will go dry; all game can be served and eaten pink; once cooked keep warm and leave to rest for 10-15 minutes, this will relax the meat and improve the taste. Whilst resting prepare your gravy; use the juices from the roasting pan and add a little red wine or water and some redcurrant jelly to make quite a thin, but flavoursome sauce, taste and season if necessary. Serve with roasted root vegetables of your choice, plus some good mash and braised cabbage, and pour over plenty of your rich, fruity gravy. Delicious!
Enjoy! More game cookery will follow throughout the season.