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Mark Hix recipes: From broths to baked potatoes, our chef gets creative with grouse

It isn’t the biggest bird on the moor, but what it lacks in size grouse makes up for in flavour. Test drive these recipes for breast with corn drop scones, grouse and spelt salad, a gamey broth and a very special baked potato
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Not only is the grouse the first feathered game bird of the season, it is also one of the tastiest. A whole grouse on a plate isn't to everyone's taste and as a nation, of course, our bird of choice is the blamelessly bland chicken. But the delicate richness of grouse is a taste that is well worth acquiring and – with a little creativity and imagination, it's easy enough to find ways to prepare it that will tempt even the most timid palates.

While the bird itself is a bit of a luxury in terms of cost, it goes a lot further than you might think. Once the meat has been eaten, the carcass and legs can be cooked up into a good gamey gravy, or turned into a full-flavoured broth that makes a superb base for soups.

Breast of grouse with corn drop scones and girolles

Serves 4

A brunchy grouse dish for game-lovers or someone weaning themselves on to the bird. Again, you can make this with any game bird – even quail or pigeon.

2 oven-ready grouse
A couple of knobs of butter
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
A few sprigs of thyme
A few sage leaves
120-150g girolles or other wild mushrooms
1tbsp chopped parsley
Grouse gravy to serve (see below)

For the drop scones

110g self-raising flour
1 egg, beaten
120-130ml milk
120g cooked sweetcorn kernels, roughly chopped
A little vegetable or corn oil

First make the drop scone mixture. Put the flour into a bowl, stir in the egg, sweetcorn and enough of the milk to form a smooth batter and season.

Season the grouse inside and out: put the sage and thyme inside the birds and rub the breasts with butter. Place on a baking tray and roast for about 15 minutes, keeping them nice and pink.

To cook the drop scones, heat a griddle pan or a trusty frying pan and rub it with a little vegetable oil. Drop tablespoonfuls of the mixture into the pan and let them cook for 3 minutes until bubbles rise, turn them over and cook for another 2-3 minutes. Drain on kitchen paper while you are cooking the rest and keep warm.

Meanwhile, heat a little oil and butter in a frying pan and cook the girolles on a medium heat for a few minutes until they are tender then stir in the parsley.

Meanwhile, remove the breasts and legs from the grouse, place the drop scones on to warmed serving plates, slice the grouse breast a few times and arrange on top. You can remove the leg meat and scatter over with the girolles then spoon over a little grouse gravy.

Grouse or game gravy

I hate throwing game carcasses away. I tend to make a nice, rich game gravy for the freezer from it. It saves you running around at the last minute trying to cobble together something decent.

The cooked carcasses from two, or more, grouse or game birds, chopped
2-3 large shallots, peeled and chopped
A little vegetable or corn oil for frying
½tbsp plain flour
A good knob of butter
100ml red wine
600ml strong brown beef stock (a good-quality cube will do)

Heat the oil in a heavy-based saucepan and fry the carcasses and shallots on a fairly high heat for a few minutes. Turn the heat down, add the butter and stir in the flour, then gradually add the red wine and stock; simmer gently for about 30 minutes, a simmer plate is great for this, if you have one.

The sauce should be a good thickness by now, if not thicken with a little cornflour diluted in cold water – or you can continue simmering until it thickens. Now strain through a fine-meshed sieve.

Grouse, spelt and herb salad

Serves 4

Spelt is a great grain for adding a bit of flavour to a gamey salad like this. I often use it in place of rice in a risotto, as it holds up really well and is quite healthy with it.

2 oven-ready grouse
A few sprigs of thyme
A few sage leaves
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
A couple knobs of butter
A handful of small tasty salad leaves and herbs, washed and dried
30-40g spelt, soaked in cold water for a few hours
2tbsp rapeseed oil
1tbsp chopped parsley
1tbsp chopped chives
1tbsp chopped chervil

For the dressing

1tbsp cider or white wine vinegar
1tsp Tewkesbury or Dijon mustard
2tbsp rapeseed or olive oil
2tbsp vegetable or corn oil

Cook the spelt in simmering salted water for about 15-20 minutes or until tender, then drain and leave to cool. Mix the herbs with the spelt and rapeseed oil and season to taste.

Grouse, spelt and herb salad (Jason Lowe)

Meanwhile, cook the grouse as above, leave to cool a little before removing the legs and breasts. Whisk the ingredients together for the dressing and season.

To serve, remove all of the meat from the legs and slice the breasts into 5-6 pieces, arrange the leaves, spelt and slices of grouse on to serving plates and spoon over the dressing.

Baked potato with grouse

Serves 4

This is based on a dish I created years ago with a whole snipe. You could do this with any game bird, to be honest – you just need to make sure whatever you use has the livers still in there, so they can be chopped up and mixed with potato, which adds a superb richness to the proceedings.

4 medium-sized baking potatoes
2 oven-ready grouse, along with their livers
60-80g butter
4 sage leaves
A few sprigs of thyme
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
A little game gravy to serve (see above)

Preheat the oven to 230°C/gas 8 or the hottest it will go. Wrap the potatoes in foil and bake in the oven for about 30-40 minutes then remove the foil and cook for a further 15 minutes or until they are soft. Remove from the oven and leave to cool a little. Roast the grouse as above.

Meanwhile cut about a third off the tops of the potatoes and scoop out the flesh into a bowl. Mix with the remaining butter and season. If the grouse have livers then sauté them, then mix in to the potato (chicken livers can be substituted if necessary).

Baked potato with grouse (Jason Lowe)

Remove the legs from the grouse. Now remove the meat and mix with the potato. Refill the potato skins with the mixture and return to the oven for 10 minutes.

Remove the breasts from the grouse and cut into about 5 slices and arrange on the potato and pour a little game gravy over the top.

Grouse and summer squash broth

A good broth made from left-over grouse carcasses and legs makes an ideal dinner-party soup. Any game carcasses can be used for the stock.

For the game stock

2 or 3 grouse carcasses and legs, chopped
1 onion, peeled and roughly chopped
1 medium carrot, peeled and roughly chopped
2 juniper berries
A few sprigs of thyme
1 bay leaf
1.5ltr chicken stock (a good-quality cube will do)
Vegetable oil for frying

To serve

1 small, ripe squash, peeled, seeds removed and cut into ½cm dice
1 small leek, cut into ½cm dice and washed
1tbsp chopped parsley
1tbsp sherry
Any meat reserved from the carcass or legs

To make the broth, fry the carcasses and vegetables in vegetable oil over a high heat for a few minutes until lightly coloured. Add the juniper berries, thyme, bay leaf and chicken stock, bring to the boil and simmer very gently for 1 hour, skimming the surface occasionally.

Grouse and summer squash broth (Jason Lowe)

Strain the stock through a fine-meshed sieve and put to one side. Any meat left on the carcass and legs can be saved to garnish the soup.

To serve, simmer the squash and leeks in the broth for about 5-6 minutes or until tender. Then add any left-over grouse meat and the parsley and sherry, simmer for another minute or so, re-season if necessary and serve.