Few things get me more excited at the start of winter than the possibility of log fires, mulled wine and of course: Game. It has been too long, as it always is, rarely do you hear of pheasant searing on a BBQ in June (unless you have a few frozen from last season). It is a hugely welcome addition to my kitchen as the leaves begin to drop from the trees and the days steadily diminish to the point that it’s dark when you wake up.
So it was with a great deal of anticipation I heard a good friend of mine, Nick, was heading off for a spot of midweek shooting…for partridge! I like partridge; be it a partridge in a pear tree, Alan Partridge and or John Partridge, the master of countryside couture. It was foolish of me to suspect that Nick might not deliver the goods, the man is a ridiculously good shot; he was the same person who provided me with my first Woodcock previously posted here, last winter.
“Partridges are such handsome, dignified little birds that it seems a pity to harm them. It is said that they are a difficult shot and fly very fast with the wind.”
(Ian Niall, The New Poachers Handbook: Heinmann: 1960).
Quite right, so I am glad it wasn’t me that had to bring down the four partridges that I stood staring at on my chopping board. Then again these were not natives (grey partridges), they were French or red-legged partridges, but very pretty all the same.
I can still recall the first time I saw a partridge. There weren’t many knocking about in Sussex, but I had seen many a literary reference that pointed towards East Anglia as a hotspot. My chance to finally see one arose one summer when I went to stay with a buddy near Holkham in Norfolk. Naturally for a twelve-year old lad like me, the partridge was one of the first things I wished to see. I didn’t even have to go far from my friend George’s house; on my first afternoon up there I sat on a fence post in front of the house watching a covey of partridge amble nervously across the sun-washed stubble of a Norfolk field. I even tried to take a photo of them when they took to the wing. This being the days before decent cameras, I have a picture of a field with a couple of blurred specks in mid air…but at least I know what they are!
Historically speaking, only one type of the partridge found in Britain today is native. The red-legged partridge was brought over specifically for sport. At the back end of the 18th century the Marquess of Hereford brought several pairs of live birds and thousands of eggs over from France. The eggs were hatched under mother hens and so began the introduction of red-legs into the British landscape.
To be honest, I’m not sure which I prefer, the red-leg looks prettier and I have always found its breast feathers infinitely useful when tying flies for fishing. However, I have heard that our native greys taste better…
When I get my hands on some game, the first thing to go through my head is always:
A) Do I pluck the entire bird and do some roasting, serve up with some nice chunky wedges, a bunch of veggies and smother in a rich red wine reduction?
B) Sod that, plucking is a pain in the arse, there isn’t much meat on it anyway, why not just cut out the breasts and be done with it?
Due to Nick’s reluctance to join in with the plucking of these four little birds, I very nearly succumbed to the temptation of going with the latter. Then I reasoned with myself: It was a Saturday night, I could sit down and pluck with a large glass of red and then make some stock the following day. Recently we have moved into a flat with a big fridge/freezer; laying down some good stock can and will come back into production, I think it is important to make the most out of what you have in the kitchen, game is certainly no exception and will always be top of the list when it comes to stretching out it’s many uses. So pluck I did.
How to cook these dainty little birds was a small dilemma. I settled upon doing two in a traditional manner and the other two with a bit of a fiery twist, after all why cant game be pepped up a little and have something different than juniper berries and red wine?
Spicy Spatchcock Partridge:
I have always been a big fan of spatchcock (butterflying) birds, when it comes to cooking over hot coals- there is simply no better way. Plenty of game has passed my lips, but none in this way. A little heat works nicely with partridge- especially if you are feeding it to someone who isn’t so fond of that ‘gamey’ flavour.
- · 2 partridges (butterflied)
- · 4 skewers
- · olive oil
- · Juice of 1 lemon
- · 2 cloves of garlic (finely chopped)
- · 1 tbsp of smoked Paprika
- · 1 tbsp of mild chilli powder
- · Salt & pepper
- Place the partridges in a large tuppaware, pour over a good slug of olive oil, add the lemon juice, the rest of the ingredients, put the lid on and give the tuppaware a damn good shake for about a minute. Place in the fridge for an hour.
- Remove from the fridge and insert the skewers into each partridge running from leg to wing diagonally. Put in a roasting pan and pour over the remaining marinade.
- Roast in the oven for 25 minutes maximum at 200C, give them a basting every so often.
- Remove from the oven and let them rest for about 5 minutes, then serve: sticks and all.
Serving suggestions: Good with some roasted Mediterranean vegetables and Rosti.
Roast Partridge with Port and Apple:
A fantastic recipe! Rather than using red wine, use something a little stronger…Port is a fortified wine (battlements, castles, cannons etc) and is generally consumed after a meal such as partridge, pheasant etc. Why not make it part of the main course?
- · 2 partridges
- · 1 apple (preferably Cox’s)
- · 4 Shallots (diced)
- · ½ glass of port
- · 1 small bunch of grapes
- · salt & pepper.
- Preheat the oven to 200C. Slice the apple into thin sections and stuff two into the cavity of each partridge.
- In a roasting pan, place the remainder of the apple, shallots, half a dozen grapes cut in two, ½ the port, a cup of boiling water and a little seasoning.
- Place the partridges in the roasting pan with all the goodies and cook for 25 minutes, basting every 5 minutes.
- Remove the partridges and lay to rest on a warmed plate under foil for 5 to 10 mins
- Stick the roasting dish on the stove and heat to remove all meaty goodness from the dish
- Over a saucepan, pour the contents of the roasting dish through a sieve, ensuring to mush all the bits through to get all their flavour. Add the remaining port to the pan with a few sliced grapes and reduce.
- Serve partridges and drizzle over the fortified nectar!
Serving suggestions: It has to be roasted potato wedges and cabbage with bacon for this one.
If you find yourself with a brace of partridge in your kitchen, I would go with the second recipe…so rich, so amazing! These recipes can also be used with Mr Pheasant, who I hear is quite fond of being curried these days.
Game isn’t applicable to everyone’s palate. I remember making the mistake of ordering a rather well hung grouse at Rules and asking for it rare…had it not been my birthday and all those delightful silver tankards of London pride, I would have left it- too rich by far. I think game is an acquired taste and to me, a total devotee, it is something special- like a ‘vegetarian’ that enjoys a steak every so often. It is early days as far as the shooting seasons goes…I wonder what the next shoot will deliver?