Partridge is perhaps the most delicate of game birds. They come in two sorts: the red-legged and the grey-legged. The grey-legged ones are more expensive and in general they may be hunted for a few days per year only. In all cases it is best to buy them early in the year (September until mid November). The season is short, so don’t wait too long!
The meat of a partridge is lean and tends to become very dry when preparing it. So what to do? Of course! Put a strip of bacon on each breast and transfer the poor bird to a hot oven.
Not really. The bacon will impact the characteristic taste of the partridge which is of course not something you want to do. And placing such a small, lean bird in a hot oven is a massive risk. Just a few minutes too long (simply because something else you are preparing takes a bit longer than expected) and the meat is bone dry. Stuffing the bird doesn’t help, the filling will be moist but the meat will be dry anyway.
The key to an excellent partridge is to be brave enough to use an oven on a really low temperature, meaning the temperature the meat should have when you serve it. Restaurant owner and celebrated Chef Peter Lute introduced this method in the Netherlands.
Another interesting aspect is that, different from many other birds, the legs of the partridge are not that special. They are fairly small and have lots of tendons.
So, no bacon, no hot oven and focus on the breast.
Partridge combines very well with a range of vegetables and herbs. The classic combination is with choucroute (Alsace style). We wanted to link our partridge to late summer by combing it with a thyme-courgette cake. Easy to make and full of flavours.
A red wine is preferred, one that is not overpowering, with hints of red fruit, a touch of oak and soft tannins. Our choice was a 2016 Shiraz from Australia: the River Retreat Murray Darling Shiraz. Great value for the price.
What You Need
- For the partridge
- One Partridge
- Two Garlic Gloves
- Bay Leaf
- Olive Oil
- For the thyme-courgette cake
- One Courgette
- One Egg
- Parmesan Cheese
- Olive Oil
- Black pepper
What You Do
Start with preparing the partridge. This means carefully cutting of the two legs and removing the lower part of the back of the bird (the tail bone area, see picture). Warm a heavy iron pan and add butter. Add bay leaf and halved garlic gloves. Coat the bird with butter, making sure you get a very light brown colour. Put the legs on a plate and cover with foil. Now transfer the pan and the plate to a warm oven: 70° Celsius or 160° Fahrenheit. Leave in the oven for 50 – 60 minutes. Since the oven is on the ideal temperature for the meat, it doesn’t really mater if you leave them in the oven for 70 minutes. Remove the two breasts from the bird. Remove the bigger bone from the leg. Coat the meat with the fat from the pan. Transfer to a plate and cover with plastic foil.
Grate the courgette, transfer to a bowl, add a teaspoon of salt, mix and transfer to a sieve. Let rest for at least two hours. Discard the liquid. Wash the courgette with cold water and put the grated courgette in a clean cloth. Squeeze out as much liquid as you can. Beat the egg slightly; mix with the courgette, the grated Parmesan cheese and a generous amount of thyme. Add olive oil to a fairly hot non-sticky pan and start frying the courgette mixture. This takes longer than expected! In the mean time make sure your heavy iron skillet is heated through and through. Flip the courgette cake and fry the other side. In parallel add olive oil to the skillet, and quickly brown the meat. Separate the tenderloin from the breast and remove the fleece before serving the breasts. If all is well you will see a beautiful pink colour, indicating your cuisson is perfect and your partridge as tasty and delicate as possible. Before serving add some black pepper and extra thyme.