George Bower. that is the name of the butcher’s shop just down the road from our flat. He specialises in game, and there is a whole array of wild birds on his shelf at the moment: grouse, partridge, guinea fowl, pheasant… a treasure trove of delicious meaty morsels. I was keen to cook some game as it is the season for it, and also because I wanted to cook something Scottish. Game is a big deal in Scotland. Seasonal and local, it’s the best way to eat.
Most of the game I’ve eaten before came in the form of pheasants given to us by the shoot who rear them to shoot for sport on the farm back home, and rabbits, shot in the field with the rifle. Rabbits are a farmer’s sworn enemy. They feed mainly on grass, but a newly planted field of oats or barley when the shoots are young and tender is a much more delicious prospect for them, and they can devour the best part of a crop before the plants get a chance to grow more than a few inches. Rabbits are also prolific breeders, churning out several litters in a breeding season that lasts nine months. They’re the most populous land mammal in Britain; in other words: a pest. Naturally then, our Dad was more than happy for my brother and I to go out and shoot rabbits on the farm, their destiny usually being a delicious rustic stew with cider and bacon, served with fluffy mashed potato. Just the thought of it makes my mouth water… I must get some rabbit sometime soon.
So one day I was out shooting rabbits when I spotted something rabbit-coloured moving in a tuft of grass. I shot it, but it turned out to be a partridge! From a distance, the grey feathers looked uncannily like a rabbit’s fur. This partridge, along with all the other partridges, pheasants and ducks on the farm were paid for and reared by the shoot and are off limits for us to take for our dinner. Oops! Well I wasn’t going to waste it, so I took it home, plucked, gutted and roasted it. It was tasty, but I can’t say I was blown away by the flavour. However, I then found out that there are two types of partridge; the French red-legged partridge, and the grey English one. The one I had was the red-legged variety and I’d read that the grey partridge has a richer more prized flavour, so I was keen to try it and see. And today I found myself standing in George Bower’s butcher’s shop looking at all these partridges! I was told it is the perfect time of year for partridge, and the evidence was in front of my eyes. The time had come. I picked up two to take home and roast for lunch. I wrapped them in bacon, stuffed them with apple and laid them on a bed of rosemary, garlic and bacon. The result was excellent, and definitely better than the other red-legged one I shot by accident. This recipe was compiled from a number of different sources, including Gastronomique, Leiths Cookery Bibleand Rick Stein’s French Odyssey.
Roast Partridge with Smoked Bacon and Port Jus (Serves 2)
Preheat the oven to 200C. Get a roasting tray large enough to fit two small partridges in side-by-side. Chop an onion, 2 cloves of garlic, 2 rashers of smoked streaky bacon and 1/2 a carrot and lay them in the bottom of the roasting tray along with 1 sprig of rosemary and 1 sprig of thyme. Clean up the birds, then stuff a quarter of a sweet eating apple inside the cavity of each one. Lay the birds in the tray on top of the veg and cover with a few rashers of streaky bacon. Place in the oven for 20-25 mins.
As you can see from the photograph, I served mine with home made hand cut crisps. You don’t need a deep fryer to do this, just get a pan and heat up about 1 litre of vegetable or sunflower oil. Slice your potatoes and throw them in once the oil is nice and hot. Keep stirring them occasionally to stop them sticking to the bottom of the pan. Whilst the crisps are cooking, you can get on with the sauce. When the birds are done, take them out of the tray, cover with foil and put in a warm place. De-glaze the roasting tray with some hot water from the kettle, scraping off all the tasty goodness sticking to the bottom. Strain through a sieve into a saucepan and add 50ml of port and 150ml of chicken stock. Boil vigorously for a few minutes to reduce the sauce a little. Finally, thicken with some beurre manié. Drain the potato crisps on kitchen towel, and season with salt. Served up as shown in the photograph!