Despite a dalliance with fussiness in my childhood (apparently in 1988 I spent the year only eating edam cheese and green grapes), I take great pride in the fact that I am literally the world’s least picky eater.
When I say ‘least picky’, I in no way mean “un-discerning”. No foodie wants to be thought of as a culinary garbage bin, consuming everything and everything without preference or evaluation. What I mean is, it takes a lot to get me frazzled when trying new foods.
Super spicy curry? No sweating here, I can handle heat.
Kale and brussel sprouts? Pass me the greens NOW.
Offal? I’ll give any body part a go.
Shellfish and crustaceans? Gimme those critters, puhleeease!
Some of my favourite foods are things such as anchovies and gherkins, items that I never understand why some people treat with such derision. I love strong pungent flavours (I eat curry paste out of the jar with a teaspoon) and different textures don’t give me the heebie jeebies like some people (though I’d possibly draw the line at jellied eels).
I’m basically your ideal dinner guest. (I’m happy to accept any invitations, by the way…).
So when I pay a visit to my local market (have I ever mentioned how much I love that place?) I go with an entirely open mind. I love perusing the variety of ingredients up for grabs, and ogling the seasonal produce you’d just never get in the supermarket.
Being an adventurous eater, and concerned about economy, I adore this time of year, when the fish and meat stalls at the market are full to the brim with game carcasses of the four legged and feathered variety. And it isn’t as ‘highbrow’ or unobtainable as you might think. It’s not uncommon to get a brace of pheasants for less than a fiver (and if you know the right people, for free!).
I know game isn’t to everyone’s taste (culinary or otherwise) but I love the seasonality of it, as well as the fact that it’s generally low in fat, and high in nutrients such as iron, vitamin b6 and selenium. It reminds me of living a more romantic, countrified existence back in the Cotswolds, when I’d often be generously handed a brace of pheasants by a local friend. Hubbby became an expert at meticulously plucking said birds and carefully removing shots to prevent broken teeth and emergency dentist appointments (he’d do anything for a free meal).
Game birds, in particular, for me herald the onset of cosy autumnal evenings and comforting roasts, with Grouse being the first bird to come into season around mid to late August. The majority of game birds are only permitted to be shot during specific times of the year to allow them to breed and successfully migrate to their wintering grounds. So, as well as feeling virtuous with the health benefits of the meat, I feel happy knowing these birds are free range and the breed is sustainable. And it’s great to support the local economy too.
Partridge is perfect if you’re new to game, as its flavour isn’t overly strong. It is mild and delicate, and pairs well with sweet, autumnal fruit. Partridge and pears seem to be a popular marriage, but I chose to keep it super simple and use the sweetness of red onion to offset the subtle flavour of the flesh.
Don’t treat game birds in the same manner as chicken. They’re best roasted quickly, and rested for 20 minutes or so. Partridge, as with all game, can be eaten slightly pink, and i’d definitely advise you to do so; they easily toughen if cooked for too long.
This recipe is simple and rustic, but ever so tasty, and makes a special meal for a significant other, or if the ingredients are up-scaled, for friends. You may have to make a trip to your market or local butcher (you’ll find it more difficult to find partridge at the supermarket), but it’s definitely worth it.
I served these birds alongside some crispy kale (roasted in the oven with a little oil and seasoning) and some simple new potatoes. The red wine sauce is really all you need as accompaniment, though you could of course go the whole hog and serve bread sauce, and the ever-so-luxurious game chips.
So why not give something new a go? This is definitely a good way to ease yourself into something a bit different.
And if you’re ever tempted to experiment further with more unusual ingredients, give me a call.
I’d love to be your guinea pig.
Roast partridge with red wine and sticky onions (serves 2)
2 oven ready (dressed) partridge
30g butter, softened
1 large red onion, sliced thinly
1 tbsp olive oil
200ml red wine
200ml chicken stock
1 tbsp cornflour
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp redcurrant jelly
1 tsp brown sugar
large sprig rosemary
large handful of thyme, leaves picked
Preheat the oven to 180°C and place the onions in a medium sized roasting tin. Toss them in the oil, the balsamic vinegar and brown sugar, and add a sprinkle of seasoning. Place in the oven and roast for approximately 30 minutes (checking carefully to ensure they don’t catch).
Meanwhile, season the partridges’ cavities with salt and black pepper, and pop the rosemary and thyme in each one. Rub the skin of each partridge with the softened butter and season well.
Take the onions out of the oven and gently lay the partridge on top. Turn the oven up to 200°C and cook for 20-25 minutes. You may need to cover the birds with foil if they are browning too quickly.
Remove the birds from the oven and move to a warm plate to rest. Place the roasting tin on the hob over a high heat, adding the cornflour, wine and stock. Simmer for a further few minute, watching carefully as the sauce thickens. Add the redcurrant jelly, whisk well and season to taste. Bubble until the sauce has turned slightly syrupy.
Serve the partridge alongside accompaniments of your choice and a generous serving of the red wine sauce.