The Countryside Alliance’s Shot for the Pot campaign is a marvellous way to induct new ‘gamers’ and invigorate longstanding lovers with ideas on how to eat, prepare and cook those all things gamey. Having embraced a countryside lifestyle and very much been at the heart of a huntin’, shootin’, fishin’ way of living in recent months, I jumped at the chance to write for Shot for the Pot week and set about creating a recipe in homage to a delicious and free range source of meat.
Knowing relatively little about shooting and game birds before Jerry and I took the plunge to move from town to country, I have found myself learning an awful lot about pens, pegs, ‘pheasies’ and mostly how not to enrage local gamekeepers as the owner of a lively working cocker spaniel puppy. The weekly pop pop pop of gunshot in the air and the Range Rovers driven by men in their tweedy best are a source of wonder to me and I am always on the lookout for their spoils picked up and sold on by local game dealers. A sight I shan’t forget in a hurry this autumn is one of a gamekeeper’s Gator with a vast number of partridge hung under the canvas in the back en route to the table of the local landowner. In fact, it reminds me still of my first encounter with a gamebird up close and personal….a bird in the hand one could say, dear Reader.
On an early morning walk along our bridleway, Monty, our cocker pup, spied a wee little partridge sitting under a tree and not moving. An injured bird is sadly rather a sitting duck (excuse the pun) for an untrained gundog puppy and I am ashamed to admit that before I even had the chance to get in there first, Monty picked it and wouldn’t let me have it. Spaniel well and truly chastised, I wrestled the poor bird from his jaws and naively, was hoping to send it on its merry way after a quick once over. However, the terrified little thing took one look at me and promptly breathed its last in my hand. I was then faced with a dilemma which only a townie would have deliberated over…..what ought I to do with the bird? It was past a trip to the vet and I couldn’t take it home as my girls would have cried at the sight of the dead bird and been appalled at the thought of it being hung in the laundry room in readiness for the pot. So I placed it down gently at the edge of the first field I came to, knowing full well that our local pair of red kites would probably spy it and have a good luncheon. Guilt remained with me for the rest of the walk but on my return back towards the bridleway, the red legged chap had disappeared. Terrified that I was going to be in serious trouble with the gamekeepers who have a fierce attitude towards the local villagers and their dogs, I was grateful to the kites for clearing up the scene of the crime.
It would seem that I am not the only one who has a few teething problems with gundogs and gamebirds. The very next day I set out with Monty on our daily romp towards the woods when I was greeted by the head gamekeeper and his dogs. He was checking the pegs for the day’s shooting and had his two Labradors trotting in tow. I called out to him to ask if I was alright to carry on my walk and he yelled back his morning greeting and said that all was well. With Monty firmly on his lead (I am proud to say that I never flout the rule of dogs on leads on the shooting estate as it seems so unreasonable to do so when so much effort seems to go into prepping for a shoot), I continued. As I narrowed the gap between us and the gamekeeper with his excitable black bruisers, I caught sight of his dogs flushing out a young male pheasant and then with the bird firmly between nashers, chasing off towards their boss! Monty watched with considerable excitement and started barking rather loudly! Gripping Monty’s lead firmly, I greeted a rather embarrassed gamekeeper who had promptly snatched hold of said dog with pheasant clamped to his jaws. He then proceeded to hold an entirely brief conversation with me with the bird pointlessly hidden behind his back, desperate for me not to have noticed. I’m afraid I couldn’t resist cracking a joke about swapping his ‘well behaved’ dogs for my jaunty spaniel pup! He was puce with embarrassment and then mumbled something about going back to his car for something he had forgotten. We said our goodbyes……me giggling to myself all the way to the woods! In fact, it raises a smile even now!
So in homage to you, dear Mr Head Gamekeeper and for all your hard work with pens, partridge, pheasant and pesky gundogs, I present my little recipe offering for the Countryside Alliance’s Shot for the Pot week:
Roast Partridge with Quince and Bacon (Serves 2 hungry countrymen or women!)
2 partridge, plucked, hung and ready for the pot
2 ripe quince, diced (pear would work well too)
4 rashers of smoked streaky bacon, diced
a good dash of Somerset Pomona, a cider brandy (Pineau or Calvados would also be good)
half a glass of white wine
a teaspoon of Dijon mustard
a tablespoon of double cream
Heat a skillet or deep pan, adding a lump of butter and a splash of olive oil. When the butter has started to sizzle, then add the partridge to the pan, spooning over the butter. Fry until the outsides are golden in colour. Place on a plate to one side to rest whilst you prepare the other ingredients.
Set your oven to temperature 200 degrees centigrade for an electric/fan oven, gas mark or be ready to add to the hot oven of your Aga, Rayburn or Everhot.
Into the pan, add the diced quince and bacon along with a tiny knob of butter to prevent them sticking to the bottom of the pan. Fry until the quince has taken on a good colour and the bacon is on its way to being crispy. Then deglaze the pan with the Pomona and set alight with a match to burn off the alcohol. Do watch hair and eyebrows with this one! Once the liquid has had a good sizzle and the flames have died down, add the partridge back to the pan along with the white wine.
Place the pan into the oven and roast for 10 minutes – any longer and the partridge has a tendency to be as tough as old boots I think. Once the 10 minutes are up, lift the partridge out of the pan and place on a plate, under a blanket of foil. The birds need to rest and you can then crack on with finishing the sauce in the meantime.
Heat the liquid in the pan and allow to simmer gently, adding the mustard and cream. Cook down for a minute or two until the sauce has thickened a touch. I like to wilt a little spinach into the sauce but feel free to omit or cook some greenery to serve as an accompaniment.
Place the birds back into the pan and spoon a little of the sauce over them to coat them in mustardy, creamy quince and bacon goodness.
Jerry and I snaffled these with a good hunk of bread to mop up the sauce but you could easily serve with mashed potato or indeed, a healthy portion of polenta.
Easy as pie so do give gamebirds a go and make sure you have a look at all the wonderful recipes and ‘how to’ guides on the Shot for the Pot website too. I’m off to track down some venison next as Jerry has a hankering for a good game pie. Wonder if I could have a word with the gamekeeper’s labs to see if they could bag me a deer…..?!