Popcorn partridge recipe from field to fork
Leon Challis-Davies heads out for the last shoot of the season to deliver his stunning partridge dish to a team of hungry Guns
With February fast approaching, I was keen to get out and cook some partridge. I don’t like saying it’s the end of the season for many reasons, partly because I enjoy getting out and sharing my love of field-to-fork food, but mainly because many associate the end of the season with the end of game meat until the autumn. For me, game should be eaten all year round — and for the majority of those in the industry, it is. At the end of the season, our freezers are stocked to last us until the Glorious Twelfth — for those of us lucky enough to be on the grouse — or 1 September for partridge shoots.
Looking to get my final fix of partridge, I headed to Oxfordshire to try for some sporting birds and indulge in delicious finger food.
George Peachey, marketing manager at Calvert Sporting, and his brother, Tom Peachey from William Powell, have put aside the competitive nature of their work to run a superb family farm partridge shoot. I was invited to cook for the Guns and get on a few birds myself during the last day of the season.
Matthew Arnold’s poem boasts the quote, “the city of dreaming spires”, referring to the stunning architecture of the buildings and universities in Oxford. But it’s the vast, beautiful landscape in Oxfordshire’s countryside I’m looking at today, with only one thing on my mind — popcorn partridge. I love making my food simple, quick and appealing to the younger generation.
How about a British countryside and Louisiana Creole food fusion?
Tom started the morning explaining that he was hoping there would be enough birds in the right areas, something about a broken quad and a barn door that had fallen off. He lay the blame for the litany of misfortune that had befallen their run-up to the shoot thus far with George. George, naturally, saw it the other way. This hefty dose of brotherly love told me today would be brilliant entertainment even without enough birds.
After a sausage sandwich and cup of tea, we had a quick safety briefing before drawing pegs.
I picked my peg with anticipation, hoping for the best. My luck was well and truly in as I drew number nine. I didn’t think much of it, but Tom’s face was a picture. “You are going to be busy,” he said, with a few of the Guns hearing my peg number and echoing similar words. I could feel the pressure building, as if cooking for 30 Guns and beaters wasn’t enough.
Down to the first drive, a quick walk over to the peg and we were ready to begin. My idea was to drop enough birds for elevenses, then to cook on the trusty gas stove off the back of the truck. Within minutes of being on peg, the birds were flying beautifully. At the top of the rolling hill was covercrop that the beaters were working their way through.
Trickles of birds started to come over the first four pegs. The pressure eased, as most of the Gun line other than me were getting shots off. Then, all of a sudden, a flush of those beautiful, gingery golden redleg birds came flying my way. I took two with barrels one and two. “Hurrah!” came the shout from most of the Gun line. That was lucky.
I had to take a minute to watch how wonderfully these birds flew and enjoy the quintessential British landscape. In less than half an hour I was going to be cooking this stunning, wild and sustainable game meat. My daydreaming was interrupted by shouts of “over” from my right, with another bird brought down. A second “over” to my left, and another bird was down. We almost had the number we needed. A third bird, crossing right to left, came down. It was a frantic frenzy, birds and barrels going off all along the Gun line. I couldn’t load fast enough, missing countless shots over my head to the right and left. Luckily, we had a top Shot behind picking up all those I missed.
Collecting 10 of the partridges that were in prime condition, I headed back to the truck, dropping the tail down and setting up the stove ready to cook my dish of the day.
This dish is super-simple; all the preparation can be done well in advance and stored, so when you’re out in the field the dish can be ready to eat in 10 minutes. This recipe serves up to six people.
Strip or chunk six partridge breasts into 2cm pieces. Mix together 200g each of rice flour, cornflour and gram flour. Add 1 tbsp of each of the following to the flour mix: chilli flakes, turmeric, ginger, cumin, paprika and ground garlic, and 3 tbsp of Cajun spice. Slice two spring onions, and chunk 200g of chorizo into 1cm cubes. You could also use smoked bacon or pancetta.
Take the Cajun flour, partridge and spring onions, and mix it all in a bowl. To give it an extra kick, you could add 100g of jalapeños. Shake well and make sure all the meat, spring onions and jalapeños are coated before removing from the flour. I then added 50ml of buttermilk and mixed to create a sticky, spicy, clumped popcorn-looking masterpiece. You can add more flour if the mixture is too wet.
Quick and tasty
In the heated pan, fry your chorizo until nice and golden. Add a touch more oil to the pan and place in your popcorn partridge, cooking it for six to eight minutes until golden. Arrange on a board and drizzle over your choice of sauce. I opted for garlic mayo, let down with a little water so it would trickle over the top. Add sliced gherkins for acidity and to take away some of that heat, along with chopped parsley and mint. You could even knock up a quick coleslaw and stack it in a bap or wrap. It’s possibly the tastiest popcorn partridge around.
The speed of this dish was a bonus today, with the Guns and beaters back from drive two just in time for elevenses. I thought I had cooked enough for everyone, but had to fire up the stove to prepare more — a great sign that my dish was enjoyed by all. After a quick tidy-up, I was back on the peg for the rest of the day. In retrospect, Tom’s comments were spot on. It’s best to under-promise and over-deliver on a shoot day. I’m already looking forward to coming back in September.