I have a confession to make: I?ve never tasted grey partridge. I?ve never had the chance to. Redlegged partridge, however, I?ve eaten often, and I love it. They are easy to deal with ? easy to pluck and draw, easy to roast and altogether too easy to eat.

Ageing partridges is simple enough, and crucial for deciding how you are going to cook the bird. As with pheasant, an older bird roasted will be a sore disappointment, as they turn out tough and chewy. Mind you, if you aren?t careful, even a young bird can turn out dry. Perhaps that is why so many people are rather negative about roast pheasant.

A young partridge will still have a slightly pliable beak and claws, while on an older bird these will be tougher, as will the breastbone (useful if you are getting ovenready partridge).

I would normally hang a partridge for five days or so in a cool place. Florence White, who collected wonderful recipes in her book Good Things in England, recommends hanging them for as long as possible, but I think tastes have changed ? I can?t imagine many people cooking ?Norwich cygnets? anymore, which is included in her tome.

A roasted partridge should be a lovely, deep brown colour, but not dry. Keeping the bird moist during cooking isn?t difficult, as long as you aren?t afraid of using a bit of fat. I know plenty of people use bacon, but I prefer not to, as I find that the partridge doesn?t brown and ends up tasting more of bacon.

Season inside and out, and then rub plenty of butter all over the bird. Roast in a hot oven for 20 minutes, after which you can take it out and allow it to rest. I wrap a few layers of foil over the roasting pan and put a towel or two on top to keep it warm. A little bit of pink is quite acceptable in a gamebird.

Since redlegged partridges are from southern Europe, a good way to deal with older birds is to cook them in the Mediterranean fashion ? in a cast iron pot with onions, garlic, tomatoes, olives and red wine, and a bit of smoked paprika.

Baked patridge with pairs and walnuts

This recipe is a collection of ingredients that are readily available at the moment ? the pears are ripe, while the walnuts have been collected, with their husks removed and laid out to dry.

I used perry cider for this, but dry cider would work just as well. Allow one bird per person, so this serves four. I?d serve it with some mashed or fried potatoes and a vegetable such as kale, as it needs something slightly bitter against the sweetness of the pears.

Ingredients (serves four)

– 2 tbsp butter – 4 partridges – freshly ground pepper – sea salt – 1 onion, very finely chopped – 3oz smoked lardons, or streaky bacon – 2 Conference pears – a handful of walnut halves – 3 glasses of perry or dry cider


1. Preheat the oven to 220°C. Melt one tablespoon of butter in a cast iron pan. Grind some pepper and sprinkle some salt into the cavity of the bird. As soon as the butter is bubbling, turn the heat right up and brown the partridges all over, until they are golden on both sides. They will darken in colour once in the oven. Take the partridges out of the pan and place on a plate.

2. Turn the heat to medium and add the chopped onion and lardons or bacon to the pan (if using streaky bacon, take the rind off and cut into strips). Now add the other tablespoon of butter. Meanwhile, peel and core the pears and cut into eighths lengthways. Once the onion and bacon has started to colour, add the pear pieces. Using a couple of spoons, turn the mixture around so that the pears are coated in the onion and bacon mixture. Allow to cook for three minutes.

3. Put the partridges back into the pan, breast side down. Sprinkle over the walnuts, pour over the cider and put into the oven, without a lid. After 15 minutes, turn the partridges over and cook for another 10 to 15 minutes, or until the juices run clear. Taste the sauce, reduce it if necessary and season if required.