Henry’s perfect partridge recipe for one or two

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Written byHenry Mackley
The first partridge arrived at Wall’s, the local butcher, on 6 October this year. Change from a fiver for a brace and a night at home alone. I could not be happier. There was a time, late August given heavy rain and guns, that I’d have gone for grouse but this is no longer grouse country (I remember when it was, years ago, on the Long Mynd) and frankly I’d rather someone else cooked it for me. Last time I prepared one at home it cost me a tenner for half a brace. It was shot to smithereens and it stunk.
Two plump birds at ready
Two plump birds at ready
The grouse is a faff and it’s got to be had with all the bits and pieces: bread sauce, game chips, its liver smeared on fried bread, watercress up its chuff. Delicious, but I’m not doing it. It’s not an option this year anyway. I’d rather these two plump little birds. They’ve been shot clean too. My absolute favourite early autumn supper is a brace of partridge and a tangle of the last runner beans. It’s not a thing; I just like it. They don’t often coincide and normally the beans will have gone tough by the time the birds are shot. But not this year. There’s enough tender beans for two little birds. No spuds, no nonsense. Birds, beans and just a suggestion of gravy; the sticky bits on the bottom of the tin deglazed with a slug of wine. This is seasonal eating at its finest. A solitary supper of the highest order.
“A solitary supper of the highest order”
“A solitary supper of the highest order”
I always rather think that although the transition from summer-to-autumn-to-winter can perhaps be rather gloomsome in the mind, it is the most joyous time in the kitchen. Especially now, before the clocks change. There is more bounty and more potential than even in high summer. We may not tick with the seasons like we would’ve done before, but there’s still this thing within us at this time of year that gets us ready for hunkering down. “All is safely gathered in, ere the winter storms begin.” Love it. This is the first time I’ve not written from Harp Lane Deli. Over this past summer — the strangest of them all — the higgledy-piggledy building at 4 Church Street and I left each other’s company. I never thought it would happen, but then none of us knew just quite what a global buggerage would bring about. I gave everything to that place, often too much of myself, and occasionally to the detriment of my life away from Harp Lane. It’s my time to stop for a while, and to turn my hand to something else. I wish Harp Lane Deli and all who sail in her the very best. There are tough times ahead for the little shops, and indeed for the big ones. I’ve got a strong feeling it’s all going to be alright though. It has to be, doesn’t it.

Partridge and runner beans

(Could serve two, but ideally one)
  •  A brace of partridge
  • A generous handful of runners (I have large hands) trimmed, and sliced lengthways, like spaghetti
  • A clove of garlic, finely sliced
  • A very ripe, diced tomato (optional)
  • A decent sprig of thyme / marjoram / oregano
  • White wine / madeira / dry sherry
  • Butter, softened
  1. Bring your birds up to room temperature and preheat your oven to nearly as hot as it will go. 220c should be enough.
  2. First, blanch your sliced runner beans in rapidly boiling salted water for three minutes, or until they seem happily floppy. Drain, and refresh under cold running water for a minute or so. Allow to dry.
  3. (A note on runner beans: Only use runners that are perky and tender and super-fresh. Old beans are horrible, woody and stringy, and good only for the compost bin. The slicing is essential here. The spaghetti like strings make runners taste amazing. I have a little slicer called a Krisk. Buy one, they cost a fiver. It will change your bean-eating life. Finally, never undercook a runner bean. Al dente is very much NOT the thing here.) Now, shove some thyme up the birds, anoint them liberally with butter and season inside and out with generous quantities of salt and pepper.
  4. Place them in a small roasting tin (they should fit quite snugly, but not touching each other, or the sides of the tin) and roast hard for 15 minutes. Half way through baste with a few spoonfuls of the buttery juices which should hopefully be sizzling away in the bottom of the tin. Remove the birds from the oven, transfer to a warm plate and leave them alone for a bit. Do not wash up the roasting tin.
  5. Meanwhile, in a frying pan, add your sliced garlic to some warm olive oil or butter and allow it to sizzle for a minute without browning (the moment garlic browns it goes bitter, and ruins everyone’s day). If you’re feeling fancy, turn up the heat a little and add the chopped tomato and stir around for a minute or two until it’s given up. Add the beans and continue cooking for a couple more minutes. Turn off the heat, season and cover.
  6.  Get your roasting tin over a high heat and chuck in roughly a small glass of white wine (or booze of your choice) and scrape vigorously until it’s reduced by half-ish. Add any juices that may have seeped from the little birds, a small knob of cold butter, whisk briskly, and turn off the heat.
  7. The little legs of the partridges will be pretty tough, but the breasts will be divine, and hopefully blushing just ever-so-slightly pink. Use your hands. This is not a dish to be eaten tidily.  

Contact Henry Mackley Insta: @mackleyhenry  


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