While the Red-legged Partridge is native to some Mediterranean countries (particularly France, Spain and Northern Italy), the one above most definitely lived and died in Colchester. I know this because I bought it from the Pheasant Girl on Sunday and all her game is sourced locally (to the family business). So what do I mean by Mediterranean Partridge…
I was out foraging for sweet chestnuts last week in Hyde Park, which seems to have the best concentration of chestnut trees in London. I have looked elsewhere, but most other trees seem to have quite tiny nuts. It’s not a great year – the nuts are half the size of previous autumns, but I suppose that’s down to an exceptionally and persistently dry summer. Never mind though, the trees did have a plentiful supply and I came away with a decent harvest.
The chestnut tree originally came to Europe from Sardis, in Asia Minor, apparently and they were very popular with Greeks and the Romans. The nut itself is a good source of carbohydrates and can be made into bread, cakes and even beer! They are very popular in France and Italy as marron glacé, candied in sugar syrup and glazed. Chestnuts have less calories than a lot of other nuts, lots of vitamin C and no cholesterol. The downside to this is that they take a bit of peeling.
Having picked some chestnuts, getting to the edible part of the nut is a bit of a challenge. The outer green capsule is exceptionally prickly – thick gloves are a good idea for picking and opening. Once open, roasting or boiling the nuts helps to soften the hard “wooden” shell. Cut a cross into the shell before roasting, since chestnuts are otherwise likely to explode in the oven! 10 – 12 minutes at about 200º C should warm the nuts sufficiently to allow peeling. Peel when the nuts are sill quite hot, the shell hardens as it cools – I got half way through and put them back in the oven for 5 minutes to re soften the remaining shells. Once peeled, chestnuts can be used straight away, or kept in the refrigerator for a few days. They freeze well and can be divided up in small containers for future use.
So having bought a partridge and foraged chestnuts, I thought I’d make a stuffing, using typical Northern Mediterranean ingredients, as opposed to an English chestnut stuffing with sausage meat.
Mediterranean stuffed Partridge recipe:
1 partridge (per person)
3 cloves garlic (finely chopped)
1 medium tomato (chopped)
10 Kalamata olives (chopped)
a 50g slice of feta cheese (chopped)
8 small chestnuts (chopped)
8 large basil leaves (torn)
a sprig of thyme (torn)
sea salt and cracked black pepper
4 or 5 potatoes (cut into quarters)
Before you prepare the stuffing, cut up 4 or 5 medium potatoes into quarters and put them in an oven dish with a generous splash of olive oil. Cook the potatoes in a preheated, moderately hot oven (200º C) for 90 minutes in the middle of the oven, turning occasionally.
Chop up the garlic, tomato, olives, feta, chestnuts, basil and thyme.
Stir the stuffing in a bowl and sprinkle with a little olive oil, salt and pepper.
Fill the partridge with the farce or dressing as it’s sometimes called in America.
Since the stuffing is a bit crumbly, use a skewer to close the cavity (or tie the legs together). My partridge had been cut open to one side (not uncommon on small birds), so it was easier to use a skewer.
Place the partridge breast down on the potatoes, after they have had 90 minutes of roasting. This keeps the meat moist and stops the breasts drying out.
Cook the bird for 20 – 30 minutes, turning upright for the last 10 – 15, so the skin takes a little colour. Raising the dish higher for the last part helps with the browning. Do not be tempted to cook a partridge for longer, because it will dry out. One of the fantastic things about this bird is the succulence, of the meat when it is cooked correctly. There is no need to cook game until it is well done – less is more! Rest the partridge in foil for 10 minutes before serving.
As I had some leftover farce, I put it into an oven dish and gave it 10 minutes at the top of the oven while the partridge had it’s nap. The roasted stuffing was so good that next time, I will make a large amount as a specific side dish, instead of cooking additional vegetables.
Wine suggestion: Spanish red, Atalaya Almansa Laya.
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’s 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.