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Pleasant pheasant or pretty partridge

WE are in the middle of National Taste of Game Fortnight ...

A brace of pheasants

WE are in the middle of National Taste of Game Fortnight ... something that I’m not going to forget as leaves aren’t the only things littering the countryside here in North Northumberland at the moment.

Game, in the shape of pheasants and partridges, are everywhere and quite a hazard when driving, because of their lack of inclination to run or fly into the safety of the grass verges when a vehicle comes along. Totally unstreetwise! Sadly, as a result, the roads are strewn with the unlucky ones.

However, people do pick up and eat road-kill which is, I understand, legal. Not, though, I suspect, if you try to mow something down specifically for the purpose of eating!

Today’s recipe is for simple roast partridge which in my view is the best way to eat a young partridge. Think miniature roast chickens but with more flavour.

Partridges have a lovely delicate, subtle taste which isn’t too strong and gamey as some other birds can be. Although they are in season from September to the end of January, they are at their best in October and November.

You allow one bird per person and part of the ritual of eating them is to pull off the legs and eat them in your fingers, gnawing at every last tasty little morsel.

As there is no fat to speak of on these little birds, making them very healthy, they need to be covered with streaky bacon and enriched with a little butter inside the carcase and over the skin.

Traditionally they are served with bread sauce, thin gravy and game chips. Game chips sound rather alarming and fancy but they’re not difficult.

Just thinly slice peeled potatoes (a mandolin or slicer disc on a food processor is best), rinse them under cold water to remove all the starch, dry on a tea towel and fry in very hot fat until golden and crispy. Drain well on kitchen towel and sprinkle with a little salt.

However, if like me you aren’t keen on deep-fat frying at home, a bag of Kettle crisps is just as good and obviously a zillion times easier. Nothing wrong with a bit of cheating every so often, I say.

Oven-ready partridges, and pheasants too, are readily available at the moment from the larger supermarkets and obviously from butchers and game dealers as well. They cost between £2-£2.50 each.

As well as the traditional accompaniments mentioned above, I like to serve them with some very finely sliced Savoy cabbage, quickly stir-fried for a few minutes just before eating.

For dates and details of A Festive Dinner Party which Jane will be demonstrating during November at her home near Chatton, visit www.janelovett.com

Serves 4

4 oven-ready partridges

55g (2oz) butter, softened

salt and freshly ground black pepper

8 rashers streaky bacon

1. Preheat the oven to 220C/425F/Gas 7. Rinse the birds and dry well on kitchen towel.

2. Put a little butter into the cavity of each bird, smear the breasts with the rest and season with salt and pepper. Snip the bacon rashers in half and lay four halves overlapping over each breast. Arrange the birds in a roasting tin into which they fit fairly snugly, but so they are not touching.

3. Cook in the preheated oven for 30 minutes. Check during cooking and when the bacon is brown and crispy, remove it (and set aside) to allow the breasts to brown. Baste the birds at the same time.

4. When cooked, transfer to a serving plate and keep warm. Skim off the excess fat and bubble up the juices in the roasting tin, scraping any tasty sticky bits from the bottom.

5. Add a little flour if you like lightly thickened gravy (less than a tablespoon), work it into the juices using a fish slice, then add some water and/or a splash of red wine. Bring to the boil, stirring, until thickened a little and simmer for a few minutes. Taste and season.

6. Serve the birds with the bacon, gravy, some bread sauce, game chips and a green vegetable such as stir-fried shredded Savoy cabbage.

The birds can be prepared to the end of Step 2 several hours in advance.

There is no fat to speak of on these little birds, making them very healthy

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