A miserable drizzle is preventing me from going for a walk, and the leaves are about to turn to a wide range of reds and yellows. Autumn is here, and with it comes lots of game. A friend who dropped in yesterday knows how much I like venison, and kindly brought a large pack of the meat. Yum!

At a time when the Covid-19 epidemic occupies the front pages of every newspaper, and Trump’s infection comes as welcome relief, another issue is drawing media attention in the UK. This is the annual autumnal burning of the heather moorland in Scotland. These fires cause the peat below the surface to ignite and set off large volumes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

The purpose of the exercise is to make thousands of acres of heather moorland grow green shoots for grouse to feed on next year. The practice understandably causes fury among environmentalists because of the pollution it causes. Land holding in Scotland is a cause of much friction between locals and the English aristocracy that grabbed thousands of acres in the highlands when poverty was rife. Now, they invite rich guests and paying punters to shoot on their moors. Tens of thousands of birds are slaughtered in this annual ‘sport’. Few are eaten or even taken home.

But apart from the income it generates for landowners, it also makes money for local villages, shopkeepers and beaters. So despite protests, the government has refrained from imposing an outright ban. Meanwhile, many protected birds of prey are being killed under suspicious circumstances. It has long been assumed that these predators are being targeted by hunters to prevent them from killing grouse.

Grouse is much appreciated for its delicate but gamey flavour and cooking it is fairly straightforward

The bird is much appreciated for its delicate but gamey flavour. The shooting season starts on 12 August (The Glorious Twelfth) and ends in December, with the taste growing stronger by the end of the year. Cooking it is fairly straightforward.

Remove the insides thoroughly; using wads of kitchen paper, making sure that all the blood is out, as its presence makes for a bitter taste. Remove the legs and thighs so you can cook the breasts without having to wait for the tougher bits to become tender. Rub salt and pepper inside and outside the body, and heat the oven to 190 degrees, or gas mark five.

Now, sear the skin of the bird in a hot frying pan and then transfer into a baking tray that goes into the hot oven. Cook it for around 10 minutes or until done to a pink interior. However, if you want it well done, you can give it another five minutes or so. I suggest you fill the cavity with fresh herbs like rosemary or tarragon before placing the bird in the oven.

You could consider making a sauce to go with the roast grouse. Once it’s done, remove the bird from the baking tray and cover with foil to allow it to cool. The tray goes on a hot plate and the juices deglazed with a little wine vinegar and chicken stock. Remove when it has thickened, or chuck in some cornstarch and stir.

Another suggestion is to slice some bell peppers (paharri mirch), onions, whole garlic and drizzle everything with olive oil and sea salt. When all the veggies are soft, they’ll make a good accompaniment to your grouse. Actually, most chicken recipes work for grouse as long as you don’t overcook it.

Published in Dawn, EOS, Octoberr 11th, 2020

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