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Grey Partridges are birds that belong to the botanical family of pheasants (zool.: Phasianidae) within the order of Galliformes. They are also called English Partridge, Hungarian Partridge or Hun. Their size is similar to doves; they are about 30 cm long and 225 to 450 g in weight. Grey Partridges are gamebirds. Their head and short tail feathers are reddish-brown. Male and female are recognised most easily by their vaned feathers on shoulder and wings. Males have a lighter bar along the shaft, females also have two light transverse bars. In French a young and tender partridge is called perdreau but perdrix is the regular French term for grey partridges.

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History of partridges

Partridges are native inhabitants of the steppe, veldt and moorlands of Eastern Europe and Africa and were introduced to North America. When agricultural areas became larger partridges spread to other European countries and are common all over Europe today. Two close relatives of the European partridge live in Asia. Perdix barbata is common in China, Perdix hodgsoniae lives in the highlands of Central Asia and the Himalayas.

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Biology of partridges

Partridges live as couples during mating season from the middle of March to April and form flocks outside breeding season. Breeding time is May and in the beginning of June after 24 to 26 days of breeding 10 to 20 chicks hatch. When the young are hatched their parents live in a flock with them until the next breeding season starts. The chicks are fledged after five weeks. During their first few weeks they feed on protein-rich insects, after that only on plant materials such as cereals, grass and weed seeds and green plants.

Partridges are synanthropic species - they thrive in areas developed by man and usually live on farmlands containing hedges and bushes. The requirements on their surroundings change with the seasons of the year. In fall and winter they roam in the stubbles of harvested fields and fallow farmlands.

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Quality markers of fresh partridges

Today most partridges are bred and are therefore available outside hunting season. Their dark red meat has a distinct game aroma. The meat of younger birds is in general tenderer than that of older animals. Young partridges can be recognised by their yellow feet and a sharp, dark beak. Older birds have greyish-yellow to grey feet.

Partridges have always been a delicacy. The French food writer Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin (1755 - 1826), wrote about the partridge: "Gourmands can distinguish the flavor of the thigh on which the partridge lies down from the other."

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Preparation of partridges

Partridges are gamebirds, and go well with ingredients of the fall just as other game meats. They may for example be prepared with grapevine leaves, grapes, cabbage, chestnuts, nuts, pears, apples, cranberries, chanterelles or Sauerkraut. These other ingredients should not dominate the dish but support the taste of the partridge.

Partridges are best prepared whole, mostly cooked in the oven. They are tied up and fried in a hot pan on all sides. With a garlic clove and a rosemary twig should they then be cooked in the oven at 200°C for 10 to 12 minutes. In the meantime the ingredients for the sauce may be prepared. You may for example use pear chunks, roughly chopped walnuts, finely chopped parsley and small brunoise of shallots. After cooking the partridge should be removed from the oven and rest in a warm place for 4 to 5 minutes. The sauce can now be prepared in the cooking pan. First the shallots should be lightly browned with butter and sugar and deglazed with a sweet young white wine. Add pear chunks and a dollop of cream and reduce. Walnuts and parsley are added towards the end. Season with salt and freshly ground white pepper. Boiled potatoes and glazed carrots go well with this dish.

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Related gamebirds

Most partridge species are protected. For historical reasons two species should nonetheless be mentioned. The red-legged partridge, also called French partridge, (zool.: Alectoris rufa) and the rock partridge (zool.: Alectoris graeca) have the same quality of meat as the grey partridge nowadays used in kitchens. All partridge recipes may also be prepared with these birds. The red-legged partridge is more colourful than the grey partridge and lives in hilly landscapes among woods and rocks, sometimes it can even be found in mountainous regions. It is native on the European mainland and was introduced to Great Britain as a gamebird. Rock partridges look similar but only live in mountainous regions.

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