The partridge is a medium sized bird, in between the larger pheasant and the smaller quail. The partridge bird is 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. The grey has a delicate and tender flesh which, when it’s young, is pale and flavoursome; one small grey partridge should feed one person. The red legged partridge, which originated 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. Partridge has an open season which runs from the 1st September to the 1st February. October and November are the best time to eat the game bird. Game farming in the UK aims to get the birds in their natural habitat where they may be shoot 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 wild stock. 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 should 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. The younger the better with partridge, although older birds are still a fine meat 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, 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 simple, to let it show its natural flavours off. 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, 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 when served pink and juicy. 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. The bird does cook quite quickly so it’s good to check it fairly regularly. Another way to keep it moist and succulent is to perhaps wrap bacon around the whole bird, or baste with dripping or goose fat to keep the flesh meat juicy. Traditional accompaniments to partridge are bacon and cabbage.