Red-legged Partridge

red-legged partridge

January 22nd 2012

I bought a couple of partridges last week, semi direct from a shoot in the south of England. This red-legged variety (Alectoris rufa) is native to Southern France and Iberia, has been introduced here as a game bird because of it’s large size. It’s estimated that there are between 72,000 and 200,000 breeding pairs in the UK. The shooting season is from September 1st to February 1st, so this late in the season one can expect the birds to be large, whereas there are a lot of younger, smaller birds around in September.


I hung the birds for 5 days – this improves the flavour, tenderises the meat and makes them easy to pluck. Hanging should be done in a cool dry place. If you run one over in spring, I don’t recommend hanging if the weather is warm – flies will be attracted to the bird and lay eggs in it. In winter this isn’t a problem.


Don’t pluck or dress game birds before hanging or they will start to go off quickly. Do put some newspaper underneath your hanging game, just in case any blood drips out (though there won’t be much if any). You can hang partridge for a week or so before cooking them – how long depends on how gamy you’d like them to taste. Up to a week suites me.


Simply put, when plucking, put one hand under the bird, with the head towards you and gently pull out small clumps of feathers away from you. I recommend plucking out of doors, the feathers do float all over the place. Doing this by hand, after a few days of hanging, should produce a far better job than by a plucking machine, which tends to leave a few feathers under the skin – these can taste quite bitter when cooked. Once you’ve done this a couple of times you get quite quick. There’s no need to pluck the head, tail or wings past the first joint (there’s no meat after that), as they get chopped off.


Cut in around the neck with a sharp knife – partridges have a crop in the throat, where they store and digest food, so cut the head off and clean the crop out with your fingers. Cut off the feet and wings, with a sharp knife or secateurs. Cut gently around the breast bone and down around the anus. This is the only tricky bit. Look at the picture above – that’s the sort of shape to aim for – similar to that of a ready to cook chicken from the butcher. Once opened up, put two fingers into the bird and gently pull out the intestines – the idea is to get them out in one piece and not break them open and contaminate your meat. Save the heart, liver and kidneys for stock, or put them back inside the bird and cook them. The liver is delicious fried, albeit a bit small. Give the bird and offal a good rinse to remove any blood or food in the crop and pat everything dry.


Put 4 pieces of garlic, a sprig of thyme, salt, pepper and a teaspoonful of goose fat inside the partridge, tie the legs together with a piece of string and wrap it in 3 or 4 pieces of smoked, streaky bacon. Game birds don’t have much fat since they run wild, so the goose fat and bacon is necessary to stop them drying out when cooking.


Roast for 20 minutes (ideal) or 30 minutes (max) in a hot oven. Let the bird rest while you deglase the oven tray and make gravy. Serve with mashed potato or celeriac and other seasonal vegetables.

For additional plucking pictures and pot roasting recipe, see my pheasant post.

A note on partridge cooking time. Partridges are beautifully moist and tender when cooked to perfection, but too much cooking and the breast dries out very quickly. Ideally, unstuffed partridges should be cooked at 200º C for 20 minutes maximum. If your bird is wrapped in bacon, cooked upside down and or stuffed, 30 minutes will be OK. If your partridge misbehaves and refuses to brown, put a cast iron skillet on the hob and heat it until it is almost smoking. Scorch the breast for no more than 2 minutes and allow to rest in tinfoil for 10 minutes before serving. One can also prescorch partridges for 2 minutes before cooking. If you use a cast iron skillet, the pan can go straight into the oven from browning. A third option would be to use a blow torch (sparingly). It’s quite safe to eat game birds rare. An overcooked partridge will be as tough as old boots!

Other Partridge posts

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30 Responses to Red-legged Partridge

  1. Beautiful looking birds. Where did you hang them? I hope you didn’t bring any “company” home, that would have freaked the hell out of them.

    • Mad Dog says:

      I’ve got a top floor flat, so I screwed a hook into the ceiling outside the front door – the hall is quite cold.
      A girl did come round last week, but she likes game, so no problems there 😉

  2. Brilliant post – how lucky to get hold of partridge…can´t remember the last time I ate this. And great tips about hanging and plucking. Finally a delicious recipe, I hope you nibbled every last bit off the bones!

    • Mad Dog says:

      Really! How odd, that’s a Spanish native and common in Barcelona. You’ll hate me, the brace cost a fiver – that’s even cheaper than I’d get them from my amazing butcher!

      • Very jealous now I´ve seen how much you paid and I am laughing at my comment “Finally a delicious recipe” What I meant was “And a final comment…what a delicious recipe” Duh!

  3. ChgoJohn says:

    Dad was a hunter and though he never brought home partridge, he did bring a number of pheasants, almost yearly. I learned to pluck and clean them, as well as squab, chicken, and even dressed a couple rabbits. Reading this post was, for me, a trip down memory lane to a far different time — and I haven’t taken that trip for quite some time. Thanks for the ticket. 🙂

    • Mad Dog says:

      Thanks for that. I really like hunting, not that I do much now. In this country one can only do it with permission or you get shot. It’s not like Cecilia’s problems where hunters wander around wherever they feel like it. Done sensibly it’s a sane way to live. The animals get to have a real life and the hunter eats good quality food that’s lean and tastes good.
      I used to have a girlfriend from Michigan – her dad had some property on an island there. He used to go hunting with a TV and a case of beer – he never shot anything because he couldn’t face killing animals, but he loved going hunting 😉

  4. Great pics and delicious recipe. We are surrounded by red leg partridge here. You don’t need a gun, you could just run them over in the car. They are a truly stupid bird for which the term “fair game” is not appropriate.

  5. What pretty birdies. Particularly like the sleeping photo! yum yum

  6. peasepudding says:

    I like your sentimental pic of the bird sleeping! Yes you are lucky getting hold of these birds.

  7. Good job, we only have a few weeks left of game season, so lots to enjoy!
    Great photos and a cracking pair of birds!

  8. Karen says:

    I have partridge in the freezer. Thanks for the tip of the goose fat inside the cavity. They must have been delicious.

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  12. Deb Weyrich-Cody says:

    One of my favourite things about Spring is hearing the Partridge drumming up a mate; )
    Although apparently what we always called Partridge around here are more properly called Ruffled Grouse, the results are equally delicious; ) This post brought back great memories for me as well, so “Thanks!” for that: )

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