The red grouse is found in heather moorland in Great Britain and Ireland. It is sometimes considered its own separate species but usually considered a subspecies of the willow ptarmigan. Exotic Meat Market had some wild-shot red grouse from Scotland available and I decided it would be fun to try it. I've previously encountered white-tailed ptarmigan in the high mountains of Colorado and wondered what they would taste like. The red grouse would be somewhat similar.
|Wild-shot grouse from Scotland.|
The Exotic Meat Market website indicates that the "flesh is dark in color and due to the diet being around 95% heather, the grouse has an exceptionally rich flavor and is an acquired taste." That is a nice way of saying it is very gamy. A post I found on sharptail grouse called the meat "distinctive, unique - and strong tasting. It is not to everyone's taste...[S]harpies have dark meat like ducks or doves, and that meat is decidedly gamey. Almost funky. You have to either embrace it or run screaming...[T]hose of us who like our meat to taste like something can linger over the beguiling taste of this bird...The flavor is acquired, but addicting." The gamiest meat I've ever eaten is pronghorn antelope which feeds on sagebrush and I assume the sharptail grouse probably feeds it on it as well. I also assume heather is a close approximation to it. Plus my experience is that dark-colored flesh tends to mean gamy. Recently we had wood pigeon wild-shot from Scotland and it was dark and very gamy, so much so that we did not eat it all. The Exotic Meat Market site called it "deep crimson in color, and...a great depth of flavor...[A] rich taste..."
|Reddish/purple color of the grouse.|
I eat a fair amount of exotic meat and have acquired quite a large range of acceptable tastes, so when I don't really like the taste of something I assume most people would feel the same way. So given this advance warning from the sources above, I decided to do something different so that it was not another wood pigeon experience. First, I decided to brine the meat. A Field and Stream article on brining venison states that "A brine penetrates deep into meat - and carries flavor with it. The salt solution also prevents the meat fibers from toughening up as much and helps the meat retain moisture." Another benefit of brining is that it helps remove blood from the meat, particularly helpful with wild-shot game, which helps to reduce the gamy taste. I also had a couple of venison steaks that I wanted to brine, so I made a batch big enough to use for it as well. I followed the directions for brining venison at ehow.com. The article notes that it is not the contact of the brine, but the "diffusion and osmosis, or the absorption and exchange of liquid."
First I put a ratio of water to kosher salt of 16 to 1 in a pot, which is one cup of salt for each gallon of water. I put it on the stove and added some aromatic ingredients, including several bay leaves, a few black peppercorns, celery seed, mustard seed, hot pepper seed, some dried garlic and some dried onion. I looked for some juniper berries but couldn't find them. After it boiled for a bit I pulled it off the stove and allowed it to cool.
|Brining ingredients in a pot.|
|The brining ingredients after they've boiled.|
After the brine reached about room temperature, I put it over the grouse in an airtight Tupperware container and put it in the refrigerator. The instructions were to brine it for two to three hours per pound and not to exceed 24 hours. Because I really wanted to impact the gamy taste I decided to brine it quite awhile, realizing that the longer it brined the saltier it would get. I brined it about 20 hours.
|The grouse in the brine in a Tupperware container.|
|The brine solution after 20 hours is very red, illustrating how much blood has been removed from the meat.|
After it was brined, I patted the grouse dry with a paper towel and discarded the brine. I then left the grouse uncovered in the refrigerator for 24 hours. The article states that the "sodium in the meat equalizes during the rest period."
|After brining, the little pinfeathers were easier to remove.|
|I cut the grouse in half with kitchen shears to help it cook more evenly sous vide.|
Based on the sharptail grouse post above, I decided to use smoked salt on the grouse and cook it sous vide as a way of infusing the meat with a smoky flavor. In the sharpie recipe, he used 1 tablespoon of Maine apple smoked salt for two grouse. Because I had brined the bird and only had one, I used less than a half tablespoon of bonfire salt which has a very smoky flavor which I rubbed on the bird after rubbing it with olive oil. I cooked it at 59 Centigrade (138 Fahrenheit) for one hour and 43 minutes.
|The cooked grouse after sous vide.|
The finished grouse was moist and had a nice texture. It was very smoky and quite salty, but the gaminess was mostly gone.
|The grouse was very moist and cut quite easily.|
I prepared a salad with butter lettuce, a tomato, grated carrot, an avocado, brined feta cheese and two boiled eggs and added one of the grouse halves to it, cut up into thin slices. It was the perfect accompaniment, kind of like anchovies to a Caesar salad. It provided a very distinctive and good taste that stood out in the salad.
|Part of the grouse went into a salad and it added a wonderful flavor.|
If I do grouse again, I will follow the same type of recipe but reduce the brining significantly so that it is not as salty. I would probably do the brining for three to five hours. The smoky salt in the sous vide was perfect.