The Beer Lover's Table: Roast Grouse and Potimarron Squash with French Lentils and Ayinger Celebrator

It’s hard to believe that, a few short weeks ago, we were eating peaches and tomatoes by the bushel. But now that it’s October, there’s a whole new seasonal bounty to be had.

If you ever find yourself playing a game of autumnal bingo, this dish might well give you the winning edge. It's got chestnuts, and mace—a highly aromatic spice that's reminiscent of nutmeg and allspice. It's got the tangerine-hued potimarron squash—also known as hokkaido or red kuri squash—which resembles a pumpkin but is less sweet, more nutty
and earthy. It's got grouse, pink of breast and deeply meaty, only available in butchers for a few months of the year.

The only thing that possibly doesn't quite fit this seasonal picture? The beer.

Doppelbock is a brooding, opaque, deliriously malty German style that's most associated with the springtime. First brewed by monks in Munich, the filling beer was released in time for Lent and its associated fasts, when it could serve as a liquid meal replacement. You can often spot a doppelbock by the prancing goats on its label, which are another
springtime signifier; Ayinger's Celebrator—a superlative example of the style—even comes with a plastic goat charm slung around the bottleneck.

Even if doppelbocks are traditionally released in spring, the style's rich flavour profile, molasses-like mouthfeel and heady strength make it ideal to consume during the colder months - especially during Oktoberfest.

Call me a rule-breaker, but I think the beer has never been better used than as a pairing partner for this supremely autumnal plate.

Roast Grouse and Potimarron Squash with French Lentils and Mace Brown Butter

For the lentils:
200g dried puy lentils
3 tbs olive oil
1 medium-large carrot, very finely diced
2 large echalion shallots, very finely diced
2 cloves garlic, chopped
300ml vegetable stock
2 bay leaves
1 small bunch thyme, tied together
Freshly cracked black pepper, to taste
1/2 tsp coarse sea salt
150g peeled, roasted chestnuts, sliced in half

Fill a bowl with cold water and add the lentils. Rinse by swishing around in the water, and pick through for any stones. Drain and set aside.

Add the olive oil to a medium saucepan and heat over medium-high heat. Add the carrot, shallots, and garlic, and, stirring frequently, cook for 5-6 minutes, or until softened and shallots have gone translucent. 

Next, add the rinsed lentils, the vegetable stock, bay leaves, thyme, and season with salt and pepper. Once the mixture has come to a boil, turn the heat down to low and allow to simmer for approximately 25 minutes, or until the lentils are tender and the broth has mostly been absorbed. Add the chestnuts and cook for 1-2 more minutes. Drain any excess liquid, and season further to taste. Remove the thyme and bay leaves and discard.

For the grouse and squash:
1 potimarron squash, around 1 kilo
4 tbs olive oil, divided
Flaky sea salt (such as Maldon), to taste
Freshly cracked black pepper, to taste
1 tsp fresh thyme, roughly chopped
2 whole grouse, cleaned and trussed

Preheat oven to 180 C. 

Prepare the squash. Wash off any dirt off and pat dry. With a very sharp knife, slice off the stem and then slice it in half, carefully (no peeling necessary). Scoop out the seeds and gunk from the cavity and discard (alternatively, you can keep the seeds and roast them later, as you would pumpkin seeds). Slice the squash into approximately inch-thick crescents.

Arrange the squash slices on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Drizzle over 2 tbs olive oil and season to taste generously with cracked black pepper and flaky sea salt. Add the thyme. With your hands, lightly toss the squash pieces to ensure they're evenly coated.

Meanwhile, heat the remaining 2 tbs olive oil in a large skillet over high heat. Your grouse should have come from the butcher with streaky bacon or pork fat covering the breast; remove and set aside.

Once the pan is hot, add the grouse, using tongs to brown the birds on each side, approximately 2-4 minutes total. Return the pork fat or bacon to the grouse, and add the birds to the tray with the squash, breast-side up. Season the grouse generally with salt and pepper inside and out. If you have more squash than can fit on the tray—you want it in a single layer, not piled up—move the excess to a second parchment-lined tray.

Roast in the oven for 20 minutes, after which the grouse will still be beautifully pink within and your squash should be tender.

For the mace brown butter:
50g unsalted butter
1/2 tsp ground mace

While the grouse and squash roast, prepare the mace brown butter. In a small frying pan over medium-high heat, melt 50g butter. Let it cook for approximately 4-5 minutes; it will bubble up and will begin to smell toasty and nutty as it cooks. Butter browns quickly, so watch it attentively; as soon as it starts to darken, add the mace and stir to incorporate. Remove from the heat after 30 seconds and allow to cool slightly.

To serve, plate up your grouse, your squash and your lentils, and drizzle the mace brown butter over the whole lot.

Claire M. Bullen is a professional food and travel writer, a beerhound and an all-around lover of tasty things. Follow her on Twitter at @clairembullen, and pick up a bottle of Ayinger Celebrator while stocks last.