Roast partridge with bacon and pears is my favourite autumn dish. Partridge doesn't taste too strongly gamey and doesn't dry if cooked right. Brown it in the pan, blast it in the oven and cook the legs longer than the breast - that's the best way to cook whole partridge. A good method for roast pheasant, too.
Autumn is game time
Game is one of the comforting things in autumn time, when nights are pulling in, you suddenly feel so chilly in the evenings that log fires need to start burning or at least heating to come on and the barbecue season is well and truly over.
Partridge irrevocably associates with Christmas (pear trees and all) even though the shooting season starts on the Glorious Twelfth, 12th August. But I absolutely adore it come October, when we really appreciate the rich dark meat that smells of the wind.
For less initiated partridge is a good place to start the game game (haha) as it's not too strong, reasonably tender and tastes much like - guess what! - chicken. But it really does and even the colour of the roasted meat is similar to chicken: white meat on the breast, darker on the thighs.
So for those who happily scoff chicken but experience the fear of the less known on their plates, the taste will be reassuringly familiar.
Game is seasonal
Game is also the flagship of seasonality because we don’t get to eat it all year round. That’s the beauty of truly seasonal food – you appreciate it when it turns up, as no partridges can be flown in from Peru in the middle of June.
Forgetting how things taste is the best thing about having them again in the following year, when they come back in season.
It also is guaranteed free range, happy meat. It isn't expensive when plentiful in season and it's lean, healthy, high protein food so it really should be on our menu more often than it is.
How to cook partridge?
The trick is to cook it just right. Game birds are small so it’s easy to dry them out in the oven, no matter how many bacon slices you slap on their bellies. One good method is to brine them: if you want to try, check out the brined roast pheasant recipe as both birds can be cooked in similar ways.
Pheasant is a tougher old bird though so brining isn't strictly necessary with partridge, especially smaller birds.
I find it turns out juicy and succulent if you brown it well in the pan, roast it whole underneath some fatty bacon slices for as little as ten to fifteen minutes and give it a good rest.
Browning in the pan isn't strictly obligatory but it does help kick-start cooking the legs. Obviously, dried out breast and raw legs is the least desirable outcome so to avoid it, put the partridges in the hot pan to sear it on both sides, pressing the legs onto the hot surface.
If you definitely want to skip the browning stage - smoke, smell and extra washing up - turn the oven on as hot as it will go, preheat it well and add 5 minutes to the roasting time: 15 - 20, depending on the size of the birds.
Another trick is to remove the birds from the oven when the breast is cooked, cut off the legs and return them to the oven for three minutes while the rest of the bird rests.
More game recipes
Pheasant, as mentioned above, hugely benefits from brining. Here it is, roasted, with sprouts and mushrooms, tender and juicy as anything.
Wild wood pigeon is an underrated bird. Admittedly there’s only a morsel of meat on the breast and the legs can only be used to make rather gorgeous stock, but it’s very cheap, very sustainable and makes a lovely dinner party starter.
Another bird we have too infrequently is guinea fowl. I like to roast it boned, stuffed and rolled, sumptuously filled with pork and dried fruit.
More partridge recipes
Filleted partridge breast is widely available to buy these days, so try the recipe for it pan fried, served with grilled peppers, mushrooms and aubergines.