Since we’re nearing Christmas, I thought a partridge recipe was in order. If you’re feeling cheeky, you can even add pears to this recipe and give it to your true love on the first day of Christmas.
This is a delicious little dish I made while bird hunting in Montana. Even if you don’t have a partridge handy, it will work with other birds, like pheasant, grouse or chicken, for example. I recommend keeping the breastbone in whatever meat you choose, it helps prevent the meat from drying out.
What you’ll need: pancetta, orange, lemon, salt, pepper, brandy, olive oil, orange juice, dried parsley, dried rosemary, dried tarragon and butter. And, of course, wedges of ripe, peeled pear could certainly be added to the baking dish.
Whisk all of the ingredients together in a baking dish except for the butter, the whole orange and the pancetta.
Place the birds, breast-side down, in the marinade and put everything in the refrigerator for 3 to 4 hours, turning the birds over from time to time. The longer the meat stays in the marinade, the more aromatic it will be. But since the meat is delicate you want to take it out after about four hours, otherwise the orange flavor will overwhelm it.
Once you’re ready to cook the meat, cut your orange slices thinly.
When the baking dish goes into the oven, place one piece of orange and one piece of pancetta on top of the meat and toss in the cold, cubed butter.
Baste the meat every 5 minutes with a spoon, drizzling the buttery pan juices over the top of the breast meat.
You’ll do this until the pancetta is crisp and the breast meat is pretty firm, but still gives when pressed. That is when you remove it from the oven. It will continue to cook for a few minutes as it rests.
You can reduce the sauce further by putting the baking dish back into the oven while the birds rest. When the meat has reached its desired consistency, you can pour the sauce over the birds on their serving dish.
If your birds are small and you haven’t been lucky enough to bring home more than two, you can serve this dish as an appetizer. Simply cut the birds in half so that everyone gets one breast. I like to slide the orange and pancetta off and eat them as a side here so as to get the full, delicate flavor of the meat.
“Partridge with Pancetta in Orange Brandy Sauce” Serves 4
For the Marinade: Zest of 1 orange ½ cup orange juice Juice of ½ lemon 1 teaspoon salt ¼ cup brandy ¼ teaspoon dried tarragon ¼ teaspoon dried parsley ¼ teaspoon dried rosemary ¼ cup olive oil 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
To Cook: 4 partridges, butterflied, bone-in 4 round slices of pancetta, thinly sliced 4 tablespoons cold butter, cubed 4 slices of orange, cut round and thin from the center of the orange 8 toothpicks
1. Combine all of the marinade ingredients in a baking dish with a whisk. Place the meat, breast-side down, in the mixture. Marinate for 3 to 4 hours, turning over every hour.
2. Preheat the oven to broil. Place one orange slice on each breast and cover with the pancetta. Fasten them with a toothpick on each side.
3. Add butter to the baking dish with the marinade and place in the oven on the middle or lower rack, ensuring at least 6 inches of distance from the broiler flames. Broil the birds breast-side up, basting every 5 minutes, for 25 to 35 minutes, until the pancetta is crisp and the breast meat is firm with just a little give when pressed. Remove the breasts and let them rest on a plate for 10 minutes. Put the baking dish back in the oven and let the sauce reduce for 5 minutes more.