The partridge is a medium-sized bird, somewhere between a pheasant and a quail. Patridge are native to Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Middle East, and are found all over the UK.

The two main types of partridge in Britain are the native grey partridge and the red-legged partridge. Grey patridges have a delicate and tender flesh which, when the bird is young, is pale and flavoursome.

One small grey partridge feeds one person. The red-legged partridge, which originates from southern Europe, is slightly larger with a milder flavour; this bird is best hung for a couple of days to increase the gamey flavour. Younger birds need a shorter hanging time.

Shooting is an extremely popular rural activity, worth around half a million pounds each year. The open season for partridge runs from the 1st September to 1st February. October and November are the best time to eat the game bird.

Game farming in the UK aims to release the birds into their natural habitat. In the UK, it is legal to shoot game bird during their season.

The birds are raised from chicks in purpose-built shelters until they are old enough to be given access to the outdoor runs to become familiar with a natural environment. In August, when the birds are around 8 to 10 weeks old, they are sold to gamekeepers who release them into the countryside. Not all birds are shot, some remain and populate the natural wildstock. The majority of shoots rely on hand-reared game being released to supplement the diminishing number of wild birds.

What to look for when buying partridge

Game dealers, butchers and farmers markets sell partridge ready to cook. They should also be able to provide information about the bird as well as advice on how to prepare and cook it. You should check the bird all over for pieces of shattered bone or the odd stray feather still in the bird. A partridge with bruised or torn skin should be avoided. When it comes to eating partridge, the younger the bird, the better. Older birds are still a fine meat, but they tend to be a bit tougher and work better in pies and stews. If the breast bone is soft and pliable, it is a young bird and it is perfect for roasting.

How to cook partridge 

Partridge probably has the least intense gamey flavour of all the game birds; if you want a mild game taste to a bird, partridge is for you. The young bird should be treated fairly simply to let it show off its natural flavours. It can be grilled and roasted, served with a light gravy of its own juices and autumn vegetables or game chips. Older birds benefit from being cooked slowly - either braised or stewed.

Partridge is not the same as chicken and shouldn’t be treated as such. Unlike chicken which should always be cooked through, partridge is best served pink. The lean nature of the bird means that it is likely to dry out when cooked, being served pink is a way to ensure that doesn’t happen, and contrary to chicken, there is no risk of life-threatening bacteria when undercooked.

Due to its size the bird cooks quite quickly, so it’s good to check it fairly regularly. Other ways of keeping it moist and succulent include wrapping bacon around the whole bird, or basting it with dripping or goose fat to keep the flesh meat juicy. Traditional accompaniments to partridge are bacon and cabbage.

Partridge Recipes: