Rules of the game: Mark Hix hunts down the best grouse recipes

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It's grouse and wood pigeon season, but fear not – you don't need to hunt to make these delicious recipes

The game bird season is upon us again and grouse will be available for those foodies with deep pockets or friends in the shooting community. You'll find that the price of grouse does ease off somewhat through the season, but overall it is one of the most sought-after game birds on any restaurant menu. At the other end of the scale is the wood pigeon, which is also at its best at this time of the year; it has spent the summer feasting on hedgerows and on various crops and shouldn't be ignored. If you treat the wood pigeon with the same care you'd lavish on a grouse, you can cook some very economical meals. For either bird, try a simple roast with traditional trimmings like bread sauce and game chips, or a salad with wild blueberries.

Grouse with polenta and girolles

Serves 4

This is an economical way to get four good starter servings out of two grouse. (You can do the same dish with wood pigeon.) Make the polenta the night before; once set, it will last a few days in the fridge.

2 oven-ready grouse
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
100g butter, softened
A couple of tablespoons of vegetable or corn oil for frying
Flour for dusting
120-150g girolles
1tbsp chopped parsley

For the polenta

500ml milk
1 clove of garlic, peeled and crushed
1 bay leaf
A pinch of nutmeg
75g quick cooking polenta
75ml double cream
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
30g freshly grated parmesan

The night before, make the polenta: bring the milk to the boil in a thick-bottomed pan, then add the garlic, bay leaf, salt and pepper and nutmeg.

Simmer for 5 minutes then whisk in the polenta and cook on a low heat for about 10 minutes, stirring every so often so that it doesn't stick to the bottom of the pan. Add the cream and parmesan and cook for a further 5 minutes.

Line a small rectangular container with clingfilm and pour in the polenta. Leave to cool then refrigerate overnight.

Preheat the oven to 240C/gas mark 8. Rub the grouse with butter and then season them. Place the two birds in a roasting tray and roast for 12-15 minutes, keeping them nice and pink, then leave them to rest.

While the grouse are cooking, turn out the polenta and remove the clingfilm. Cut into 1cm-thick slices and dust them with flour. Heat a couple of tablespoons of vegetable oil in a non-stick frying pan and add a knob of butter. Fry the slices of polenta for 2-3 minutes on each side on a medium heat until golden, then remove and keep warm.

Heat another frying pan with the rest of the butter and cook the girolles on a medium heat for a few minutes, seasoning them while they are cooking and turning them with a spoon. Add the parsley and remove from the heat.

Remove the legs from the grouse with a sharp knife, then carefully remove the breasts. Slice the breasts into 4 or 5 slices. Place the slices of polenta on warmed serving plates and arrange the breasts and legs on top. Spoon over the girolles.

Pigeon with aubergine salad and broad beans

Serves 4

This is pigeon with a Mediterranean twist. It will make a starter if you're using half a pigeon, or a main course if you use the whole bird.

2 oven-ready wood pigeons
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
A couple of knobs of softened butter
2tbsp olive oil
A good pinch of paprika
120g podded weight of broad beans (remove the skins from any large ones)
A few sprigs of coriander

For the aubergine salad

3 large aubergines
1tbsp olive oil
1 small red chilli, finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
1tbsp yoghurt
Juice of half a lemon
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Heat a grill or barbecue and cook the aubergines until the skins are completely burnt, turning them around every so often. Leave the aubergines to cool, then cut them in half and scoop out as much of the flesh as possible, scraping near the skin.

Roughly chop the flesh and transfer to a bowl. Heat the olive oil in a pan with the chilli and garlic for a minute over a low heat, then add to the chopped aubergine with the yoghurt and lemon; season and mix well.

Preheat the oven to 240C/gas mark 8. Rub the pigeon with butter and season well. Place them in a roasting tray and roast for 12-15 minutes, keeping them nice and pink; then leave them to rest.

Remove the legs from the pigeon with a sharp knife; carefully remove the breasts. Meanwhile, gently heat the broad beans in the olive oil with the paprika and season. To serve, spoon the aubergine salad onto warmed plates, cut each breast in half and arrange on the aubergine with the leg. Spoon the broad beans and oil over and scatter with some coriander.

Clear pigeon broth with poached quails' eggs and herbs

Serves 4

There is something quite comforting about a light, clear broth, and you can make enough for four people with just a couple of game bird carcasses. Use as many little poached eggs as you wish. You may think it's nuts to poach quails' eggs but it's really dead easy. (Alternatively, use a small hen's or bantam egg.)

2 oven-ready pigeons
2 sticks of celery, washed, 1 stick roughly chopped and one left whole
1 medium onion, peeled and roughly chopped
A few sprigs of thyme
10 black peppercorns
2 litres cold chicken stock
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
12 quails' eggs
100-120ml white wine vinegar for poaching
A small handful of celery leaves

Put the pigeons in a large saucepan with the roughly chopped celery, onion, thyme, peppercorns and chicken stock, season lightly, bring to the boil and simmer gently for 15 minutes.

Remove the pigeons, leave to cool a little, then remove the breasts and put to one side on a plate; return the carcasses to the broth and continue simmering for another 45 minutes. Next, strain through a fine-meshed sieve into a clean saucepan, check the strength and continue simmering if it needs to be stronger.

To poach the quails' eggs: bring a pan of water to a simmer, put the vinegar into a bowl and with a small knife carefully break the quails' eggs and crack them into the bowl of vinegar. Turn the water up to a slow boil and carefully tip the eggs and vinegar into the water. Simmer gently for about 30-40 seconds, or until the eggs have set, but are still soft in the middle. Have a bowl of cold water ready and remove the eggs with a slotted spoon into the cold water.

To serve, cut each of the pigeon breasts into about 5 slices and place in the middle of warmed soup plates. Next, add the drained quails' eggs and a few leaves of celery off the spare stick. Finally, pour the hot soup into the bowls and serve immediately.

Roast stuffed grouse with late summer vegetables

Serves 4

I do like stuffing when it's been cooked inside the bird – it really gives a lot of flavour, but it also means that you don't have to serve potatoes alongside.

I've served some borlotti and cannellini beans with this dish – they are becoming increasingly popular with growers here. If you can't find fresh ones, don't worry, you could also use broad beans or any seasonal vegetables.

4 oven-ready grouse, preferably with their livers, or 60g cleaned duck livers
A couple of knobs of softened butter
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the stuffing

A couple of knobs of butter
1 small onion, peeled, halved and finely chopped
Livers from the grouse or duck
1tsp chopped fresh thyme leaves
4 sage leaves, chopped
2-3tbsp chopped parsley
60-80g fresh white breadcrumbs

For the garnish

60-80g podded weight of borlotti or cannellini beans, cooked
4-6 runner beans, sliced, cooked
A couple of knobs of butter

For the sauce

100ml red wine
150ml dark meat stock

Preheat the oven to 220C/gas mark 7. Remove the grouse from the fridge about an hour before cooking. To make the stuffing, heat the butter in a frying pan, season the livers and quickly fry them for 2-3 minutes, keeping them pink; transfer to a plate. Add the onion, thyme and sage to the pan and cook on a low heat, stirring every so often for 2-3 minutes. Mix with the breadcrumbs and parsley. Roughly chop the livers and add to the stuffing mixture and season. Stuff into the cavity of the grouse. Season the birds, then heat an oven-proof pan on the stove with a little butter and lightly brown the birds on the breasts and legs; then roast for 15 minutes, keeping them nice and pink and basting every so often.

Remove the birds from the pan and keep warm. Place the pan on the stove top on a medium flame, add the wine and stir with a wooden spoon to remove any cooking juices and residue from the base. Boil for a minute or so, then add the stock. Simmer until it's reduced and thickened, or you can dilute a little cornflour in water to thicken. Heat the vegetables in the butter and season. Serve the grouse whole with the sauce poured around and the vegetables scattered over.

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