Sharp-tailed Grouse Katsu & Burdock Root Salad

If you've been following us on Instagram and/or Facebook (@foodforhunters), you would've saw that Rick and I had a successful grouse hunt in September. Our friends Ross Juelfs and Megan Beach in Minatare, Nebraska, invited us to hunt with them, and it turned out to be one of the best upland hunts we've ever had. 

Ross is the manager of Cheyenne Ridge Outfitters and Megan is a vet tech and owner of Beach Bugs Taxidermy in Minatare. While they enjoy some of the best private waterfowl hunting in the state, they also hunt public land during the slower months. Ross proved to be an excellent guide, and on that first day, Rick and I ended our hunt with limits of sharp-tailed grouse. We couldn't have asked for a better weekend nor better company.

Rick and Jenny Wheatley with limits on sharp-tailed grouse while hunting public access land near Minatare, Nebraska.
We brought home a total of seven birds and did eat one of them right after processing. Despite all the complaints we've heard from hunters who say that sharptails don't taste good, we thought it was delicious. Even with just a bit of salt, pepper and a quick sear for a rosy, pink center, it tasted no stranger than teal or dove. Perhaps like waterfowl, the dark meat of sharptails need special handling. 

Don't quote me, but it seems to me that dark-meat birds, such as waterfowl, can quickly develop a pungent, distinctly off-putting flavor, even when you don't think you've left them out long. The taste is metallic, livery and sometimes nose curling. I don't know the science behind it, but maybe it's the high concentrations of myoglobin in these hard-working muscles that has something to do with the flavors turning so quickly. 

For example, how a mallard was handled in the field and stored can mean the difference between a good-eating duck and a bad one. Waterfowl have thick feathers that hold onto body heat long after the bird dies, therefore hunters should take more care when hunting them in warmer weather. Although sharptails are delicately plumaged– compared to waterfowl, anyway– I've noticed that many hunters chase them in September. Thinking back to our hunt in western Nebraska, Rick and I had to shed down to our T-shirts by mid-day. Maybe heat is the major culprit responsible for most cases of inedible grouse.

On the other hand, I don't seem to have this issue with lighter-meat birds, such as pheasant, quail or wild turkey; the flavor of the meat stays mild, even on days when I've kept them in my game bag a little longer than I should've. If anyone can provide further enlightenment on this topic, I would love to hear it.

Megan Beech and Ross Juelfs with their English springer spaniel Beauford hunting private ground for prairie chickens near Lewellen.

So get your grouse cooled down as soon as possible and keep them that way. Even if you decided to age and clean them several days later, as we did, the cool temperature will help keep bacterial growth, weird flavors and smells at bay. Then after processing them, vacuum seal the meat for the best protection against freezer burn – another problem that could negatively affect the flavor and texture of any meat.

Sharp-tailed grouse, left, and greater prairie chicken, right.

About this recipe ... So I had not meant to offer something breaded and fried for our first grouse recipe. I would've preferred to showcase the meat in a simpler form, but this week's cooking experiments didn't work out that way.

Several weeks ago, I found burdock root at Whole Foods. Not able to resist a new, unusual ingredient, I bought a couple large roots and forgot about them – more like ignored them – in the bottom of our refrigerator. Casual Google searches showed few results on cooking burdock root, so for weeks I was undecided on what to do with them. Still, at over $5 per pound, I couldn't let them go to waste. Thankfully, they kept well next to the carrots.

Burdock root, or gobo, is popular in Asian cooking, and the recipe that stood out most was Japanese kinpira, which is a cooking style that calls for stir frying and then simmering ingredients in sugar and soy sauce, according to Just One Cookbook. Japanese burdock salad is often served as part of bento box lunches, and when jogging my memory, I'm sure I've had it before in a restaurant. When raw, the taste reminded me of mild taro or cassava– sort of potato-like but crispier and less starchy.

So that's what I decided to do with the burdock roots, but what to do with the grouse? It's been weeks since our grouse hunt, and it was time we made something with the meat, and preferably a treatment that would pull the entire dish together. Sharpies and gobo aren't exactly found on the same continent.

Halfway through making the kinpira that morning, chicken katsu came to mind. In case you haven't had it, "katsu" means cutlet in Japanese and it's equivalent to German schnitzel. Took me long enough to think of that idea, since katsu is so common in bento box– duh. Turned out, the recipe came together beautifully. The Panko breading did not eclipse the grouse's rich flavor one bit, which I always fear when breading anything.

A note on cooking sharptails: With grouse, it's important that you try to serve it pink in the center, as advised by several sharpie lovers on the internet. So to achieve that with frying, I kept the meat cold until the very last minute. As the breaded pieces hit the hot oil, the Panko quickly browned while the inside stayed cool enough that it didn't overcook. The meat came out warm, juicy and rosy. About medium, or 140-145 degrees, is perfect with sharptails.

Servings: 2 
Prep Time: 15 minutes 
Cooking Time: 1 hour and 30 minutes 
- 2 grouse breasts and 2 grouse legs (skin on or skin off) 
- 1 large egg 
- 1/3 cup of all-purpose flour 
- 1½ cup of Panko breadcrumbs 
- Kosher salt, to taste 
- Freshly cracked pepper, to taste 
- Vegetable oil for frying 
- Bottled tonkatsu sauce, to taste 
- Freshly chopped green onion, for garnish 
- Cooked jasmine white rice 

Burdock Root Kinpira*
- ¾ pound of fresh burdock root
- 1 small carrot
- 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil
- 2 teaspoons of sesame seeds
- 1/2 cup of chicken stock
¼ cup of dashi base
- 3 tablespoons of sake
- 1 tablespoon of sugar
- 1 tablespoon of mirin
- 2 tablespoons of low sodium soy sauce
- 2 teaspoons of toasted sesame oil
- 1 teaspoon of rice vinegar, plus extra

I used Just One Cookbook's burdock kinpira recipe as a base for mine. To view the original recipe, visit

Burdock Kinpira

1. Peel burdock root and cut into thick matchsticks. Soak in water with a dash of vinegar to keep the burdock from oxidizing. Set aside until ready to cook. 

Cut carrot into same-size matchsticks. 

2. Over medium-high heat, sauté drained burdock root and carrot for 5-7 minutes in 1 tablespoon of oil, stirring frequently. Then add chicken stock, dashi base, sake, sugar, mirin and soy sauce. Lower heat to medium and simmer until almost all the liquid evaporates. 
3. Meanwhile, toast sesame seeds until slightly golden. Stir toasted sesame seeds, sesame oil and 1 teaspoon of rice vinegar into the burdock kinpira. Season to taste. Set aside or refrigerate until ready to eat.

Sharp-tailed Grouse Katsu

1. In a shallow bowl, beat egg until all whites are no longer visible and it begins to form small bubbles. Pour flour into another bowl. In a third bowl, combine Panko breadcrumbs with ¾ teaspoon of kosher salt and freshly cracked pepper to taste. 

2. In a medium saucepan or deep skillet, heat 1½ inches of vegetable oil to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. When the temperature approaches 325 degrees, begin breading the grouse: First lightly coat pieces in flour, and then in the egg, and then coat with the Panko mixture.

3. When oil reaches 350 degrees, fry breaded grouse until golden on both sides, flipping halfway through. Do not overcrowd the pan, and fry meat in batches if necessary. Drain and rest on a cooling rack. Serve grouse katsu with tonkatsu sauce, rice, burdock root kinpira and chopped green onion. 

Note: Watch the oil temperature carefully and get your ducks (or grouse) in a row before you add the meat; panko breadcrumbs can burn quickly. Use a candy/deep fryer thermometer and lower the heat as necessary. Oil also shouldn’t be too cool; the breadcrumb coating needs to begin browning as soon as it hits the oil to cut down on frying time. If the katsu takes too long to brown, the grouse will not stay pink on the inside.