Here’s something fun I’ve been saving just for the holiday season, and it’s as unusual as they come, not to mention delicious. It also happens to be inspired by the classic Christmas song “Twelve days of Christmas”.
If you’re an avid reader of this blog, you’ll know that I occasionally try to poke fun at traditions, or make a dish that has a bit of a statement, like cooking a pig snout with truffle sauce. This recipe is no exception.
What happened is that I was looking for a line on some partridge, which are very expensive. I ended up getting some that were great, but the best part was that the whole bird showed up, feet, head, and all.
While I was dreaming of what I could make with it, the old Christmas tune popped into my head:
“A partridge in a pear tree”
I love poultry and fruit, so I knew there would be pears somewhere in the dish. I had been putting large, caramelized apple halves on the menu at Heartland when I wrote this, so I decided to do the same thing with the pears. After that, all I really needed was a little sauce to bring everything together and create a dish to showcase the beautiful partridge.
For the sauce, I used the carcasses of two partridges to make stock which is infused with the trim and scrap from the pears. Afterwords I reduced the stock down about 75% to make a quick “cheater glace” or reduced stock, then added some pickled ramps and some of their juice for acid, mounted it with a little butter, and called it a day. It’s simple, clean, and elegant.
One of the most interesting parts of this dish though, is a nod to the Michelin starred restaurants of Europe, where, when game birds are cooked, they are often served alongside their head that has been roasted quickly and delicately sliced in half, presented so that the diner can enjoy the brains. Marco Pierre White says in his book White Heat, that he is “doing the diner a favor” by slicing the head for them.
I know this probably sounds gross to some people, but bear with me for a moment. A tenet of mine is trying to make sure that everything is used. Nothing goes to waste if I can salvage flavor from it. Using all parts of the bird honors the animal-it’s a thoughtful way of cooking.
Slicing the head for the diner isn’t just about show though. Guess what? Poultry brains taste really, really good. They’re not gamey in the least. The other brains I’ve eaten-pork, lamb, and goat, all require soaking to remove a little of their scent and mellow their flavor. Poultry brains can be simply roasted and served straight up though, conveniently all wrapped up in a pretty little serving piece.
Before I forget too: Merry Christmas!
Partridge with Pears and Pickled Ramp Glace
Chef Lenny Russo told me to search for Hungarian Partridge instead of the more widely available Chukkar. Guess what? He was right-The flavor is better, although any little game bird could be substituted here though: dove, pheasant, quail, woodcock or squab would all be great.
Serve this with some wilted winter greens, like lacinato, or Russian kale.
- 2 cups partridge-pear stock (recipe follows)
- 2 skin on-partridges, preferably Hungarian
- 8 pickled ramp bulbs, plus 1/4 cup of their pickling juice
- 1 teaspoon chopped fresh tarragon
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
- Kosher salt and pepper
- 2 ripe pears, preferably a large variety that will yield extra scrap for the stock, Bartletts make a nice presentation, but most pears will work
- High heat cooking oil or lard, as needed
- Cut up the partridges, removing the heads and 4 breasts. Reserve the legs and carcasses for stock. Peel and trim the pears, then cut them in half vertically and scoop out the seeds with a melon baller. Reserve the scrap for the stock.
- Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a saute pan and lightly brown the pears on both sides, seasoning them lightly with salt and pepper. When the pears are browned, but before they’re cooked through, remove them and cool. Reserve the pear halves until needed.
- In a wide saute pan, heat another tablespoon of butter. Add the ramps and gently brown them, then deglaze with their pickling liquid. Add the reserved partridge stock and reduce until slightly thickened and syrupy, you want to end up with about a 1/2 cup of sauce in the pan, it should be very rich and reduced. Remove the ramps if they start to overcook and get mushy. Season the sauce to taste and adjust if needed. Reserve the sauce until it’s time to plate.
- To cook the partridge, heat a few tablespoon of oil or lard in a large saute pan. Season the partridge breasts with salt and pepper, then place skin side down in the pan once the oil starts to smoke. Halfway through cooking, add the partridge heads to the pan and cook until hot throughout.
- Cook the partridge breasts until medium-medium well, then allow them to rest, skin side-up, in a warm place, like in a gently warm oven, where you are keeping the pears warm.
- Meanwhile, reheat the sauce in the pan, adding a little water to restore it to a saucy consistency if needed. Whisk in a tablespoon of unsalted butter to thicken the sauce and add the tarragon. Double check the sauce for seasoning, then prepare to plate.
- To plate the dish, arrange a warm roasted pear half on each of 4 warmed dinner plates. Place a partridge breast on each plate, then garnish each plate with 2 ramp bulbs. Using a very sharp paring knife, cut the partridge heads in half, cleaving each beak in two. Sprinkle a flake or two of nice salt onto each half of the heads to season the brains. Place half of a partridge head on each plate, then drizzle the sauce over each plate and serve immediately.
Yield: 2 cups
- Trim from cleaning pears, including seeds and skin
- Bouquet Garni Including: A few small sprigs of thyme 5 black peppercorns, 2 allspice berries, 1/2 dried bay leaf
- 2 partridge carcasses
- 2 quarts water
- 1 rib of celery, roughly chopped
- 1 medium sized carrot, roughly chopped
- 1/2 yellow sweet onion, roughly chopped
- Pear brandy, such as Poire Williams 1/4 cup, (optional, but recommended)
- Roast the carcasses in a roasting pan at 375 until golden brown.
- Remove the carcasses and add the vegetables to the pan and roast them, stirring occasionally to encourage even browning. When the vegetables are browned, about 20 minutes, deglaze the pan with the pear brandy, then pour the drippings and vegetables into a 4 quart or larger sauce pot and add the water, pear trim, carcasses and bouquet garni. Bring the mixture up to a nice simmer, then reduce the heat and cook for 2.5 hour, with the lid half on to prevent too much evaporation. Afterwords, strain the stock, then add it back to the pan and reduce until only 2 cups remains, another hour or two.
- Chill the reduced stock and reserve until needed.