At this time of the year there will be an evening when you want to push the boat out.  It’s not quite the Christmas season but you feel wintery and festive.

I get a few friends round and put a bit of extra time in.  I feel that I want to do something a bit special.  The dinner (or lunch) calls for Partridge.

If you live in the country, you will come across coveys of partridge (a family group), particularly at harvest time in the stubble fields.  They are highly likely to be red legged, French partridges. I am told by a local Lincolnshire expert that the English ones fly too fast and people can’t shoot them!  The French ones are also easier to rear.  So, this is a bird that has not even led the life as a grass/corn fed chicken in a field or barn.  It’s completely wild and therefore has a wonderful gamey (but not too gamey) taste.  I much prefer it to it’s wild neighbour, the pheasant.  Generally a partridge is easier to bring to a lovely, ‘just cooked enough, done’ state whereas a pheasant , roasted, can easily be tough.

Buying them should not be that difficult.  You cannot find them in supermarkets here but a good butcher will have them or I hope you can find a game dealer.  I buy dressed (plucked and cleaned) partridges by the box from Jonathan Fenwick at Beelsby.  Each partridge comes very conveniently, individually wrapped.  You should allow one partridge per person.  Currently the price/partridge is between £4-6/brace.  There are two partridges in a brace. Contact details below.

For an idea for a recipe I go back to a book from 1995. Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers – THE RIVER CAFE COOK BOOK.  I spent the 90’s in a flat in Ladbroke Grove cooking from this book and still love it today.  There is a not a huge amount of meat on a partridge but I would be serving a Starter and a Pudding, maybe cheese.  All the partridge needs is the Chestnut stuffing, the pan juices and a nutty, creamy parsnip puree.  You will be transported to a Tuscan winter and your friends will have had a real treat.

Partridge with Proscuitto and a Chestnut Stuffing served with a Parsnip Puree
Serves – 6

Ingredients –
6 partridges, plucked and cleaned
80 g unsalted butter
6 slices prosciutto
1 tablespoon olive oil
150 ml Italian red wine – I recommend a light red like Dolcetta

For the stuffing –
250 g pack vacuum-packed peeled chestnuts
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 red onion, peeled and finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
175 g fresh belly pork (minced) or good quality sausage meat
2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves
100 g pancetta, chopped
150 ml Italian red wine as above
1 teaspoon crushed juniper berries
1/4 nutmeg, grated
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Method –
Make the stuffing. Break chestnuts into small pieces. Heat the oil in a pan and fry the onion until soft, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic, pork or sausage meat and thyme, and cook, stirring, until the meat is brown. Add the pancetta, the wine, juniper and nutmeg and cook together for a further 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Remove from heat and cool. This can be all done in advance and I prefer it that way.  All the flavours mesh together.

When you are ready to cook the partridges, preheat the oven to 230 C. (Aga roasting oven). Add the chestnut pieces to the cool stuffing and then stuff each bird. Cover the partridge breasts with a covering of butter and then a slice of proscuitto. Brush a suitably sized roasting tin with the oil and brown the birds for 10 mins. Baste with the buttery juices and then lower the heat to 180 C for a further 20 minutes. (Aga baking oven). Test by pulling a leg away – if still too pink, cook for a few more minutes.  Remove to a warmed meat platter and cover with foil.  They will sit happily in a warm place for 30 minutes.

Parsnip Puree –
Serves 6
Ingredients –
6 large parsnips, peeled
60 g unsalted butter plus a little extra to finish
400 ml full fat milk
salt and freshly ground black pepper

Method –
Chop the parnsips into even 1cm dice. Melt the butter, add the parnsips and season well with salt and pepper. Cook over a medium heat for 5 minutes. Occasionally, move them around with a spoon. Add enough milk to cover the parsnips and cook over a low heat until they have completely softened – about 15 minutes. Strain off the milk and keep it warm.  Blend the parnsips in a Magimix (or with a hand held blender), adding back enough milk to make a thick, smooth puree.  Check the seasoning.  When you are ready to serve, gently reheat the parnip puree with a knob of butter.

Deglaze the roasting pan juices with the red wine. Spoon the puree onto each hot plate and place the whole partridge on top. Spoon the red wine juices over the birds and serve immediately.

Contact details –
In Lincolnshire, contact Jonathan Fenwick for boxes of partridges – 07860 869 537 or 01472 371 245.

Next time – RICH, FRUIT CAKE



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