Partridge with Courgette and Thyme

Delicate

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.

Wine Pairing

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
    • Butter
    • Olive Oil
  • For the thyme-courgette cake
    • One Courgette
    • One Egg
    • Thyme
    • 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.

Caesar’s Mushrooms with Udon

Caesar’s mushroom (or Amanita Caesarea) is a true delicacy, especially when eaten very young. And raw. Since the young ones have the shape of an egg, they are called ovoli in Italian. It is not recommended to pick these young ones yourself, unless you’re an expert. The young Caesar’s mushroom looks very similar to young Fly Agaric, Death Cap or Destroying Angels. Ones we would not like to see on (y)our plate. The mature Caesar’s mushroom looks very distinct from these very dangerous mushrooms, so fewer risks involved.
When you’re in North America, you will probably be able to buy Amanita Jacksonii or Amanita Arkansana, which seem to be very similar, but not completely. As far as we know eating cooked Amanita Caesarea and Arkansana is not a problem; eating them raw could be.

The classic recipe for ovoli is to include them in a salad, with shaved white truffle, parsley, olive oil and parmesan cheese. Another option is to add them to your risotto.

In this recipe we combine the delicate flavour of the Caesar’s mushroom with lots of thyme, rosemary, bay leaf, a touch of garlic, Parmesan cheese and olive oil. Best would be to use Calamintha Nepeta, but using thyme will also do the trick. A garlic glove must be added because the garlic will turn black if your mushrooms are poisonous (not a story to rely on).

Ideally served with Japanese udon because the noodles will be nicely coated with the cooking juices, but feel free to use good pasta as an alternative. One of the benefits of udon is that it is really white, allowing for the yellow of the mushroom to be more present.

We enjoyed our Caesar’s mushrooms with a glass of traditional Burgundy wine from France (100% pinot noir). The wine should have delicate fruit aromas (black cherries, plum) and some earthiness. The wine should be medium bodied and have a crisp acidity. Not too much oak, because oak will overpower the mushrooms. The pinot noir should also be relatively light, allowing for herbal and floral tones.
Pinot Noir wines from the new world are in general rounder and higher in alcohol, making these wines more like Syrah or Malbec. We don’t recommend these wines, however tasty, in combination with the dish.
A glass of Chardonnay is also an option provided it’s fresh with just a touch of oak and butter.

Here is what you need

  • 200 grams of Caesar’s mushrooms
  • Olive Oil
  • Thyme
  • Rosemary
  • Bay Leaf
  • Garlic glove
  • Parmesan cheese
  • Japanese Udon (for instance from Hakubaku)

Clean the Caesar’s mushrooms and remove the white veil (or volva). Make a bouquet garni with lots of thyme, rosemary and a bay leaf. Start by making flavoured olive oil by warming the olive oil in a large skillet and adding the herbs and the garlic glove. Not too hot, you only want the flavours and essential oils to be added to the olive oil. After 15 minutes or so remove the garlic and the bouquet. Now add the sliced Ceasar’s mushrooms and very gently fry them. Just cooked is perfect. In parallel cook the udon. When ready (12 minutes in our case, you don’t want the udon to be al dente), drain the udon but keep some of the cooking liquid. If there is too much starch on the pasta, then think Japan and wash your pasta with cold water. This will remove the starch and allow for a better result. Remove the Caesar’s mushrooms from the pan and keep warm. Add the pasta to the pan, stir and make sure the pasta is fully coated. Add a spoonful or two of the cooking liquid to the pan. Add some grated Parmesan cheese and black pepper. Transfer the Caesar’s mushroom back to the pan and stir very gently, making it into one yellow, tasty mixture. Just before serving sprinkle with extra Parmesan cheese.

Duck Breast with a Green Pepper Corn Sauce

Ignore The Obvious

Duck is often combined with a sweet ingredient. Think fruit (orange, clementine, apple and even peach), with honey, Port Wine or Marsala. All these combinations make sense because the idea is to relate to the taste of the duck. In this case we ignore the obvious and combine it with a green pepper corn sauce. The thyme is the bridge between the duck and the sauce. The garlic brings a touch of sweetness to the sauce. The combination works beautifully!
Green pepper corn is available dried and in brine. We prefer the brine version because it integrates better with the other ingredients of the sauce. The dried corns work well after leaving them in a nice vinegar for 24 – 48 hours.

Wine Pairing

A simple Bordeaux wine will work very well. But Syrah, with its hint of spiciness, will be the perfect wine with this dish. If available go for an Australian Syrah because of the full-bodied character.

What You Need

  • 2 small Breasts of Duck or 1 large one
  • Thyme
  • Chicken stock
  • Garlic
  • Single or Double Cream
  • Green Pepper Corn in Brine (slightly crunched)
  • Mustard

What You Do

Check the breast of duck for remainders of feathers. Remove the vein on the meat side of the breast (and the odd membrane you don’t like). Cut the skin (not the meat!) in a crosshatch pattern, let’s say 1-2 centimeter apart. Doing this helps the fat render and it will give a crispy result. Put thyme in the pattern. Put on a dish, cover and transfer to the fridge. Leave in the fridge for a few hours, making sure it’s nice, firm and cold.
Fry the duck in a hot, non-sticky skillet for 10-12 minutes on the skin side. Reduce the heat after a few minutes. You don’t need oil or butter, the duck fat will do the trick. Now fry for 2-3 minute on the meat side and remove. Cover with aluminum foil is such a way that the crispy skin is not covered. The foil should only cover meat.
Remove most of the fat from the pan, but not all. Add chicken stock, garlic and thyme. Stir and add the crunched green pepper. We like their taste so we tend to add quite a few. Now start building the sauce by adding juices from the duck. Maybe you want to add a bit of mustard. This will not only add complexity to the sauce, it will also make it thicker. Add the cream but please remember that cream needs a few minutes to integrate in the sauce. If you add cream last-minute, you will, indeed, taste cream.
After 10 – 15 minutes it’s time to carve the duck. Make sure to add all the juices to the sauce. Cut the duck in slices (we like fairly big slices, you may prefer thinner ones) and place these on top of the sauce when serving.
If you have a bit of extra time, pass the sauce through a sieve, removing the thyme and other bits, before adding the green pepper.