They are usually hunted and sold onto stores; they are not easy to farm.
Grouse have pretty much the same proportion of white / dark meat as chickens do, but they don’t taste like chicken.
The breast of young grouse is tender, with a mild gamey taste. The legs and the rest of the bird have a more pronounced gamey flavour. Grouse can taste particularly gamey in regions where there has not been much to forage on, causing the grouse to go after strong tasting food that would otherwise be their second choice. Grouse meat is often mixed in with other fowl, so that the gamey taste is more muted and can act as an accent, such as in a pate, a pie, a stew, a braised dish or a casserole. In any event, the meat from older ones usually needs treatment like this simply because it is tougher.
Young ones, however, are perhaps best roasted or barbequed. They are often served simply: roasted whole, with bread sauce, chips (aka thick fries), and gravy.
There are many species, including:
- Sage Grouse: very gamey;
- Red Eye Grouse: will weigh about 300g (10 oz);
- Hazel Grouse: about 225g (8 oz);
- Snow Grouse (aka Ptarmigan): about 450g (1 pound.) Large breast. Very strong tasting.
Most sporting laws require grouse be shot in the air, not on the ground. The grouse season in the UK starts on 12 August. The birds end up in stores, and are very expensive at first, about £15 a bird (dressed and cleaned, 2011 prices.) Prices start to drop in mid-autumn and towards December (the end of the season.) Still, there’s a perception of grouse as being a “posh” meat.
Older birds shot later in the season taste better when hung. Hanging the carcasses of these older birds can improve their flavour and make the meat more tender, but it’s not necessary to do it any more than a few days at most with young birds.
Grouse is a very lean bird. Some say that they always need larding, and so advise to top with streaky bacon (aka American bacon) before roasting. Others say they don’t find the meat dry, and that the taste of the bacon interferes with that of the grouse.
Roast small birds for 20 minutes at 200 C / 400 F; larger birds, roast for an additional 5 to 10 minutes at 160 C / 320 F .
Literature & Lore
“When the grouse came in August and September we had to leave them hanging for a couple of weeks in a cool room that had air coming into it from outside. The family didn’t like to eat the birds until they were really high. You knew then they were ready because maggots would be dropping off them in a steady stream. Unless you’ve cleaned — that is, gutted — a really rotten grouse you can have no idea of the stomach-churning smell. Very few people can do it without retching — even if they do it outside in the fresh air… Apart from the maggots, their guts would also often be full of what looked like tapeworms — and the worms were still alive. I used to think, if that’s a delicacy, you can keep it.” — Jackman, Nancy. With Tom Quinn. The Cook’s Tale. London: Hodder & Stoughton. 2012. Page 183.
Parker Bowles, Tom. Why the taste of grouse just keeps getting better right through autumn. London: Daily Mail. 8 September 2009.