When life gives you lemons you can do whatever the hell you like with them, but when you’re presented with four, feathered, recently deceased grouse, you have to roll up your sleeves and deal with it. And bugger me, it’s bloody smelly.
Plucking them is a riot; if you were the kid who picked at scabs you’ll be all over this like white on rice. Feathers, however, are floaty light and get up your nose, in your eyes, in your hair and generally all over the place, and so plucking must be done under the cover of a bin liner and outside. Like double-podding broad beans it’s best done with a glass of chilly Chards and some Debussy on in the background, but unlike double-podding broad beans you get feathers sodding everywhere, so maybe save the drink until you’re finished. You’ll need it.
The feathers come out pretty easily and should be prised gently from the skin against the direction in which they grow, and the funkier your game bird the more delicate the skin, and so gently is the operative word here (not known for subtlety, I accidentally pulled the head off my first one). Treat each bird like I treat ironing a shirt (lapels and cuffs); only tend to the bits that you’ll eat. There’s no point de-feathering the wing because it’s only going to get lopped off, but go far enough around its armpit (?) to leave a good target area for the chop.
Here’s where a big, badass cleaver comes in handy, however a sturdy, sharp kitchen knife will also do – but don’t risk blunting your bestest best knife. Basically, chop off all the things. If you haven’t already pulled off the head, chop it off. See those wings? Chop ’em off. Tiny claws and tail, chop, chop, chop. You’ll need to make an incision across the base of the neck in order to empty the last meal from its gullet; this is more than a bit weird, and generally full of bits of nature and moor.
Here comes the stinky bit. If you’ve just eaten or are about to, or are even a teensy bit queasy, this might not be for you. At least we have yet to invent smello-web. You need to find the bottom of the ribcage – the end of the ribs farthest from the neck – and with the tip of a knife gently break the skin, but not actually pierce the flesh. Work the skin open so that you expose what would be its abdomen (I have no idea what that bit of a grouse is called).
Still with the tip of the knife, make a tiny incision using the ribs as guidance; you want to make a small hole, using the base of the ribcage as leverage, with the knifepoint aimed up inside the bird. Again, work this hole bigger, with your fingers this time, until the poo-pipes are unveiled in all of their pongy glory.
Then you basically just have to get your hand in there and scoop everything on out. But carefully, so as not to disrupt anything a) gross or b) delicious. Make a scoop with your hand, and insert it so that you follow the top of the ribcage. Bend your fingers ground and gently pull everything out. Heart, lungs, liver the lot – though it’s mainly poo pipes. Remember that drink?
After trimming off its neat little bum-hole, leaving it connected to the intestines so as not to disturb their cargo, you’re basically good to go. Separate out which innards you want and dispose of the rest, in eighteen layers of plastic bag, in a neighbour’s bin. Give the gullet and the cavity a quick rinse, pat dry, bard with bacon and you’re off….probably to the freezer and then the chippy, because O-GOD THE SMELL NEVER LEAVES. I froze the grouse and had jerk chicken made with Helen’s amazing marinade, and even then I’m sure there was still a little whiff of foul fowl. I might eat them at Christmas, by which point I might be ready. And I *love* grouse.