Cheerful partridge

In French Country Cooking (1951) Elizabeth David described Perdrix aux choux as ‘one of the classic recipes of French household and country cooking’. Later, in French Provincial Cooking (1960) she introduced us to Perdreau aux choux à la mode de Bretagne, in which, instead of slowly stewing two old partridges with cabbage, bacon and sausages, only one is cooked in this way and is then replaced inside the cabbage parcel, just before serving with a young, roasted bird.

This recipe owes a lot to my reading of ED but also to Delia Smith, and the pot roasted pheasant I posted earlier. I am using the ingredients available to me well into the third lockdown, so no sausage here, very little bacon and red cabbage rather than green. Supermarket partridges are probably not ideal and certainly not well hung but neither are they that old. So I am taking a middle line when it comes to cooking times. It is not a modern dish and so do not expect pink anywhere except the cabbage.

  • Ingredients: 2 oven-ready partridges, complete with bacon, half a ginormous red cabbage, two or thee carrots, a few slices of swede, one onion, several cloves of garlic, a glass of hearty red wine, a splash of brandy (optional), a handful of redcurrants, one apple, fresh garden herbs, juniper berries, a little olive oil, butter, pepper, salt.
  • Alternatives: Pheasant, shallots, port (but not so much) or stock if you are not keen on alcohol, sausages, lardons, any cabbage.
  • Method: Old or young, partridges can be quite dry and chewy and the only way round it appears to be lots of bacon fat (ED). But I would rather chew so am leaving that out. Likewise, I have not added sugar or vinegar to the cabbage as recommended by Delia.

In a deep non-stick pan brown the partridges and bacon in a little oil and or butter. When nearly ready add a diced onion, the crushed garlic, a few juniper berries and the swede. At the end pour over a spoonful of brandy and let it bubble (very careful here – we are not aiming to flame the partridges but as flaming might occur, be ready to fire fight) then pour on the wine, add the herbs and a handful of redcurrants and let it come to a simmer.

Finely slice the red cabbage, place in a large saucepan and boil for several minutes, then drain. Take a deep, oven proof casserole dish. Line it with thinly sliced apple, then half the cabbage. Follow this with thin slices of carrot. Nestle in the partridges and pour over the contents of the non stick pan. Cover all this with the rest of the cabbage and press down a bit. Add a little water if it seems dry. Cover and put into a medium oven for about 2 hours. Have a look from time to time and adjust the heat if necessary. Finally uncover the casserole, part the cabbage and let the partridges brown a second time.

Serve with mashed potatoes or gratin dauphinois, and a glass of the red.

‘Be of good cheer’ Dalai Llama

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