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PUBLISHED November 10th, 2013
Author Mary Katherine Sharman // Photography by Holly A. Heyser
PUBLISHED November 10th, 2013
Chef Hank Shaw
Author of Hunter, Gather, Cook: Finding the Forgotten Feast & Duck, Duck, Goose: Recipes and Techniques for Cooking Ducks and Geese
2 cottontail rabbits, or 1 domestic rabbit, cut into serving-size pieces
2 whole, skin-on chukar partridge
1/3 cup high-quality unsalted butter
1 cup (loosely packed) fresh rosemary, kept as little bunches on the stem
1 tablespoon maple sugar or brown sugar
1 heaping cup of cranberries
Black pepper and pickled mustard seeds for garnish
1 Allow the birds 1 hour to come to room temperature.
2 Start with birds at room temperature. Pat them dry inside and out. Heat the butter in a large sauté pan over medium heat. When hot, lay the partridge 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. Flip the birds to the other side and repeat.
3 Now stand the partridge 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 lean them up against the side of the pan. If you do this, move the pan so that only the area on which the birds are cooking is over the flame; this prevents the butter in the rest of the pan from burning. Let the partridge cook for 2 to 3 minutes in this position.
4 Now set the birds on their backs, breast-side up. Baste the breasts of the birds with the hot butter and let them cook on their backs for 3 minutes. If you have not brined the partridges, salt them now.
5 Stand the birds on their legs, leaning forward so 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, slide the pan again so only the part cooking the birds is over the heat. Let the partridge cook this way for 2 minutes.
6 Return the partridge to their sides, as in the first step—only this time use the 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.
7 Now it’s time to cook the breasts. Turn the partridge 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. 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 to on their breasts and cook 1 more minute.
8 Finish cooking the partridge for 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.
9 To make the sauce, add cranberries and rosemary to the butter and sauté 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.
1 Make certain the bird is at room temperature before you start. I used fermented cranberries* 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. Even a splash of good vinegar would do the trick. Citrusy new spruce or fir tips are best with this recipe, but as you can see it’s perfectly good with fresh rosemary as well. You are looking for a piney, resin-y element. I also added some pickled mustard seeds, but you can skip that if you’d like.
2 Brine the chukar 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 2½ ounces of kosher salt to 1 quart of water and submerge the birds overnight. You can skip these steps if you’d like.
3 This recipe was made with chukar partridge, but you could use any small bird: Hungarian partridge, quail (4 instead of 2), Cornish game hens, small grouse; or even teal, pigeons, doves, or squab if you want a red-meat bird.
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