Pick up a partridge

For more food-related blogs from Georgia Pellegrini, check out her website www.GeorgiaPellegini.com.

Montana is one of the last places in the lower 48 states to have more animals than people. It is a Mecca for game birds, from grouse to partridge to pheasant and the many in between.



I had the pleasure of hunting for these birds recently near the Golden Triangle, a patch of land to the north with succulent wheat, and tall cover grass that the birds enjoy.

The truth about bird hunting in Montana is that it requires knocking on doors like a bible salesman, to see if a person will let you shoot on their land. There are government incentive programs there to encourage landowners to share their land, but too many hunters abuse it. And so you have to make your connections religiously and delicately, calling on your charm and meticulously bringing farmers their favorite food and drink and a bottle of whiskey from time to time.

The meat of the Hungarian partridge, often nicknamed "Hun," was among my favorite morsels from the weekend. It was tender like dark meat, but clean tasting like white meat, and after bathing it in butter for twenty minutes, it had to be the finest partridge in Montana that evening.

The key, as always, is not overcooking it, in fact slightly undercooking it -- and embracing butter. I'm also a proponent of leaving the breastbone in the bird whenever possible, because the meat won't dry out as easily. A marinade also helps keep a bird tender and hold in its moisture.

And in honor of that bottle of brandy or whiskey that you so often have to give your farmer friend, I like to add a little to the recipe, in the spirit of how it all came about. After all, everything is a little better with a dash of spirits.

Give this a try sometime. It's the sure path to a delectable and tender game bird.

Partridge with Pancetta in Orange Brandy Sauce

For the Marinade:

Zest of 1 orange
½ cup orange juice
Juice of ½ lemon
1 teaspoon salt
¼ cup brandy
¼ teaspoon dried tarragon
1/4 teaspoon dried parsley
¼ teaspoon dried rosemary
¼ cup olive oil
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

To Cook:

4 partridge, butterflied, bone in
4 round slices of pancetta, thinly sliced
4 tablespoons cold butter, cubed
4 slices of orange, cut round and thin from the center of the orange
8 toothpicks

1. Combine all of the marinade ingredients in a baking dish with a whisk. Place the meat, breast side down in the mixture. Marinate for 3-4 hours, turning over every hour.

2. Preheat the oven to broil. Place one orange slice on each breast and cover with the pancetta. Fasten them with a toothpick on each side.

3. Add butter to the baking dish with the marinade and place in the oven. Broil the birds breast side up, basting every 5 minutes, for 25 minutes. Remove the breasts and let them rest on a plate for 10 minutes. Put the baking dish back in the oven and let the sauce reduce for 5 minutes more.

Serves 4

Editor's note: Georgia's passion for good food began at an early age, on a boulder by the side of a creek as she caught her trout for breakfast. After Wellesley and Harvard -- and a brief stint on Wall Street -- she decided to leave the cubicle world behind and enrolled in the French Culinary Institute in New York City.

Upon graduating at the top of her class, she worked in two of America's best restaurants, Gramercy Tavern and Blue Hill at Stone Barns, as well as in one of the premier destination restaurants in Provence, France, La Chassagnette. It was there that she decided it was time to really get at the heart of where our food comes from and head to the source -- Mother Nature. She bought a shotgun and set her sites on the cutting edge of culinary creativity intent on pushing the boundaries of American gastronomy, from field to stream to table.

Her new book, "Food Heroes: 16 Culinary Artisans Preserving Tradition" is available wherever books are sold. She currently roams the world, hunting, tasting good food and meeting the good people who make it. You can read more about her work at www.GeorgiaPellegrini.com.