In honour of the Glorious Twelfth, Hayden Groves shares his tips on cooking this delicate bird to perfection
“Grouse has been called the Beaujolais of game. It generates a real excitement as the first bird of the new season,” says former national chef of the year and Borough Market demonstration chef Hayden Groves. “Grouse has a rich, unique flavour. There is nothing else like it, even among game birds. Traditionally it would be hung until an intensely gamey flavour developed, but these days tastes have changed and the birds are hung for less time, so it is much less intense.”
Hayden is in favour of this development because in his view it makes grouse more accessible, as well as resulting in a more delicious meat.
For those who are thinking of trying it for the first time, our chef has a few tips to help you enjoy the experience as much as he does. “When you are buying grouse look for a young bird—about a year old,” he says. “The feathers should be intact and if you give the beak a squeeze, it should be quite pliable. The beak gets harder as the grouse gets older.”
Keep it moist
Grouse is traditionally roasted, and in Hayden’s view this is still the best way to enjoy this delicate bird. It is also best to cook the carcass whole, or on the crown. “The most important thing is not to overcook it—grouse has to be pink. If it is well-done, the meat becomes dry, tough and gets a liver-y flavour. The meat is extremely lean, which means it can dry out quite quickly if you are not careful. It is a good idea to wrap it in some streaky bacon before roasting to protect the meat and keep it moist,” Hayden says. “You will sometimes see it filleted, but if you want to serve grouse this way you need to cook the whole bird first, then remove the fillets once it has been cooked and allowed to rest.”
The typical garnishes for grouse are watercress, game chips, fruit jelly and a gravy, jus or a bread sauce. Commonly seen as an autumnal or wintery meat, grouse pairs perfectly with most seasonal fruits and vegetables: both sweet and sour accompaniments can work with this bird’s gamey flavour, meaning it can be more versatile than people think.
“Buy your grouse within a couple of days of when you intend to cook it,” Hayden advises. “It is hung with all the innards left in, so if yours comes like this you need to remove them and wash out any blood, then pat it dry and put it in the fridge for no more than a couple of days before cooking. When you are ready to cook it, take the grouse out of the fridge and allow it to come up to room temperature.”
The Glorious 12th
The game season famously starts on the Glorious 12th in August, but that falls on a Sunday this year so in line with shooting restrictions and tradition, it will start on Monday 13th instead. If you want to join Hayden and savour this unique bird, read his recipe for roast breast of grouse with gem lettuce, crispy bacon, toasted pecans, celeriac puree and blackberry sauce, and get the game season off with a bang.