The sport surrounding the grouse season doesn't stop with the shooting. In recent years, there has also been a race - featuring high-speed Land-Rovers, helicopters and plotting - that sees restaurants trying to be the first to get the game from the moor to their plates, often on that first day.
The joke is on them, however. Andrew Pern, of the Star Inn in Harome, Yorkshire, says that the birds should be hung for at least two or three days in August and September, and for as many as 10 days in colder November, to give them the best flavour. If you are roasting the grouse, choose a younger and more tender bird. Older birds are better for slow-cooking, or making terrines; but that can wait until later in the season, which ends on 10 December.
So how do you tell a young grouse? Pern offers four tips. First, the outermost flight feathers on young birds are pointed, whereas by their second summer they are rounded. Next, if you hold a young bird by its lower mandible, it should snap under its own weight, whereas the beaks on older birds will be stronger. Third, try squeezing the skull - on young birds it should crack easily. Finally, when dressed and oven-ready, the breastbone will be soft and pliable, rather than hard and protruding as on an older bird.
Tradition dictates that the red grouse, Britain's native species, should not be messed around with too much when cooking, so as not to mask the flavour of the young bird. Of the four recipes here (all featuring young grouse), three follow that stipulation. However, the one from Vineet Bhatia, chef-proprietor of Rasoi Vineet Bhatia in London, takes the bird into a different culinary context and offers some fairly sophisticated spicing.
Allow one bird per person. Modern fine-dining tastes call for meat to be served off the bone, so it is no surprise to see three of the chefs make use of the leg meat elsewhere in the recipe. The Anchor and Hope in London's Waterloo, however, keeps things rustic and serves up the bird whole (albeit minus wings) - just the way the gamekeeper would expect it. Make sure you collect the carcasses from the empty plates for use in stocks and pungent soups. n
Supplier Thanks to Aubrey Allen for providing grouse. Aubrey Allen 024 7642 2222 www.aubreyallen.co.uk