A small, subtle-tasting game bird
The partridge season starts on 1st September and goes through to 1st February. Generally speaking, they begin to arrive at the Market in the first couple weeks of September—but this year we were lucky. “The hunters who supply us got the first ones to us in the first week of the season this year,” says butcher Alan of Furness Fish and Game.
“We get red legged partridges from North Yorkshire and across the south Lake District, from places like Windermere,” Alan continues. “It hasn’t been a great breeding year for some of the game birds, so the gamekeepers are keeping a very careful eye on the situation to make sure the population remains healthy and sustainable, but indications are partridge will be in fine supply. “
For those that aren’t familiar with partridge, it is quite a subtle meat. “It’s one step up from quail and very different from birds such as pheasant or mallard,” Alan says. “I often meet people on the stall who want to try game but are a bit nervous, so I usually recommend they try partridge. I think I have created a few game fans this way.”
Intensity of gaminess
As the season progresses the intensity of gaminess can change and, like with all game birds, partridges can be hung—which is where birds are left intact, feathers-on, and hung in cool airy place for a number of days.
This allows the meat to mature, which intensifies the flavour and makes the meat tender. The amount of time you hang the bird for changes depending on the species of bird and how gamey you want the flavour.
“In the early season of course the birds are young and these are not hung very much, if at all,” Alan explains. “But as the season progresses, there will be some older partridges taken as well and these will be hung for a bit longer”—which, added to the fact that the older birds have worked harder means they have a much stronger flavour.
A dinner party
“It is still not as gamey as the other birds, but if the young ones prove a bit mild for your tastes try the mature ones. They tend to be available about six weeks into the season.” Another thing that is nice about them is they are just the right size to serve one per person, so they are a great bird for a dinner party table. “It can look really special,” says Alan.
In terms of cooking, however, he suggests keeping things simple. “Ask your butcher to remove the breasts then just fry them in butter for two or three minutes at most. The thing is not to overcook them, because they can dry out quite quickly.”
“One really nice way to cook the birds as they get older, which keeps them moist, is a partridge hotpot. Cook it in a casserole dish with potatoes, leeks, chicken stock, some herbs like thyme, butter and a splash of dry cider and you have really wholesome tasty meal.”
If you are a confirmed partridge fan and want to try something a bit more adventurous, Borough Market demonstration chef Andy McLeish suggests roasted partridge with brussels sprouts, chestnuts, madeira and parsnip puree, served with your choice of seasonal veg.