Sharptail grouse are an unjustly maligned bird. Yes, they are a dark meat bird, unlike their aristocratic cousins the ruffed grouse. And yes, they can be tough, especially if you get an old one. You can tell you have an old bird if it is really big, and if the beak is really stiff. Another method is to try to bend the keelbone: If it bends, it’s a young bird.
Only young birds should be roasted. Old ones are best in soup, or ground into rillettes.
(Incidentally, if you’ve come to this page looking for instructions on how to roast a ruffed grouse, you’ll find that recipe here.)
Here’s the thing I’ve learned about sharptail grouse: They are wonderful cooked like doves — in fact, they are essentially giant doves, from a cooking standpoint. Red meat that needs to be served pink. So don’t treat a sharpie like a chicken. Remember, pink is good!
As for serving sizes, sharpies are among the larger grouse of North America, being larger than a Cornish game hen, but smaller than a frying chicken. So they’re a hard bird to portion out — one bird is a bit too much for one person, but splitting a sharpie among two people leaves both wanting more.
I include a glaze for the grouse here that you can use if you’d like. It’s a glaze made with rose hip jelly, which I used because the sharpies we shot when I made this recipe were eating rose hips. You could use any jelly made from a small berry; I’d recommend currants as an alternative. But, you need not glaze your grouse. It’ll be wonderful either way.
If you have some fancy finishing salt like fleur de sel — the big crunchy kind — sprinkle a little on the birds right when you serve. It gives you a cool texture.
Serves 2 hearty eaters.
- 2 whole sharptail grouse, plucked
- 2 sprigs of sage and 2 sprigs of rosemary
- 5 tablespoons butter
OPTIONAL ROSEHIP GLAZE
- 4 tablespoons rose hip syrup or jelly
- 3 tablespoons water
- 1/2 teaspoon cayenne
- Salt to taste
- Salt the grouse well and set out at room temperature for 30 minutes or so. Preheat the oven to 425°F.
- Put the herbs inside the birds’ cavities and slice the butter into thin pats. Gently place some under the skin on the breast; you should be able to get 2 or 3 pats under the skin of each bird easily. Put a little butter on the bottom of a cast-iron or other oven-proof frying pan.
- Set the grouse upside down in the pan. Hold them in place with carrots, potatoes, celery or whatever. If you want, you can then eat those veggies with the grouse later. Put a little butter on the backs of each grouse, which are now facing up. Roast in the oven for 15 minutes.
- Meanwhile, in a small pan, melt jelly or syrup with the other ingredients and just bring it to a simmer. Mix it well and make sure it is thick. The added water helps the other flavors meld, and helps the jelly melt. If you are using syrup, you can use less water.
- Take the grouse out of the oven and turn right side up. Turn the oven down to 350°F. Put the remaining butter all over the birds and set back in the oven for 10 minutes.
- Remove the birds again and paint with the sauce. Cook again for another 10 minutes, then add more glaze. All told, the grouse should be cooked after about 20 to 30 minutes at 350°F. Use a thermometer to tell if you’re ready: The breasts should be about 145°F, and the thighs about 155°F. Pink is perfectly OK with sharptail grouse.
- If you want, caramelize the glaze under the broiler. Keep an eye on it, though, because it can burn in an instant. Let the grouse rest for 5 minutes before serving