Pan Roasted Partridges with Cranberries and Rosemary
I made this recipe with chukars, but you could use any small bird: Hungarian partridges, quail, Cornish game hens, small grouse, or even teal, pigeons, doves or squab if you want to go with a red meat bird. Make certain the bird is at room temperature before you start. The fermented cranberries are admittedly a little gonzo, but you can use thawed, pre-frozen cranberries, too. Barring that, something like tart grapes or sour tangerine slices would also work. You want tart but not overly sweet. I brined the chukars overnight and then let them sit uncovered in the fridge for a day before cooking. Brining helps the birds retain moisture, while letting them sit uncovered in the fridge helps make the skin crispy. If you brine, mix 2 1/2 ounces of kosher salt to 1 quart of water and submerge the birds overnight. You can skip these steps if you'd like.
2skin-on chukars, partridges, Cornish hens or grouse, or 4 quail
1/3cuphigh-quality unsalted butter
1heaping cup of cranberries
1cuploosely packed fresh rosemary, kept as little bunches on the stem
1tablespoonmaple sugar or brown sugar
Black pepper and pickled mustard seeds for garnish
Start with birds that are room temperature. Pat them dry inside and out with paper towels. Heat the butter in a large saute pan over medium heat. When it is hot, lay the partridges on their sides to start cooking the legs. Let them cook undisturbed for 2 to 3 minutes -- you want to hear sizzling like you're cooking bacon, not a raging inferno. Flip the birds to the other side and repeat.
Now stand the partridges up on their "heads," i.e., where the neck was and the wishbone is. You will either need to hold them in this position with your tongs, or you can lean them up against the side of the pan. If you do this, move the pan so that only the area cooking the birds is over the flame; this prevents the butter in the rest of the pan from burning. Let the partridges cook for 2 to 3 minutes in this position.
Now set the birds on their backs, breast side up. Baste the breasts of the birds with the hot butter and let the partridges cook on their backs for 3 minutes. If you have not brined the partridges, salt them now.
Stand the birds on their legs, leaning forward to the tail end of the breast touches the heat. Again, you might need to hold them there with your tongs, or rest them against the sides of the pan; remember if you do this to slide the pan again so only the part cooking the birds is over the heat. Let the partridges cook this way for 2 minutes.
Return the partridges to their sides, as in the first step -- only this time use your tongs to gently press the birds into the hot butter; this will help crisp the flanks of the bird and will give you an intense crisp on the legs and wings. Cook them on each side for another minute or two, pressing the whole time.
Now, finally, it's time to cook the breasts. Turn the partridges breast side down in the pan and hold them with tongs. As you know, breasts have sides -- the top of the bird isn't flat. So hold the birds at an angle to hit one side of the breast. You will need both hands and two sets of tongs to do this. Hold them there for 1 minute. Now switch angles to hit the other side of the breast and repeat. Finally, let them rest however they want on their breasts and cook one more minute.
Finish cooking the partridges with another 2 minutes on their backs. Baste the breasts with the hot butter again. Move them to a cutting board -- be sure it's one with gutters, so you can collect the juices -- while you make the sauce.
To make the sauce, add the cranberries and rosemary to the butter and saute 1 minute. Sprinkle the maple sugar over everything and grind some black pepper into the sauce. Add salt to taste and turn off the heat. Carve the birds, setting each piece skin side up as you cut them free from the carcass. Pour any accumulated juices into the sauce and pour it over the partridges. Garnish with the pickled mustard seeds and serve immediately.
Note: If you do this recipe with a fatty bird like a teal, it will spatter a lot, and will take a little longer. It took a full 10 minutes longer to properly cook two teal using this technique; fat, as you may recall, is an insulator.