Grilled Partridges with Tomato Salad

a80f0fd5-3a24-4f01-b0c4-312aab932fbe By Hank Shaw

All small birds are great on the grill. Doves are great simply plucked and set right on the hot grates. Slightly larger birds cook better when spatchcocked, which is a fancy way to say split down the back. Drop a brick on the birds to flatten them even more, and you can get a perfectly cooked quail, partridge, chukar, or grouse in less than 20 minutes.

A few keys to this technique: make sure the birds are at room temperature when you grill them, otherwise there’s a good chance that the center of the breast and the thighs won’t be cooked through before the rest chars. Do most of your cooking breast-side up. This prevents the breast from getting too dry.

And you need a hot fire. A screaming hot charcoal or wood fire. Gas will work, but the beauty of this technique is that smoky aroma.
Serves 4
 
Tomato Salad
2 pounds fresh tomatoes, seeded and roughly chopped
1 cucumber, seeded and chopped slightly smaller than the tomatoes(peel if the skin is bitter)
1 shallot, minced
1 large garlic clove, thinly sliced
About 1/3 cup basil leaves, torn into pieces
High-quality olive oil, about 3 tablespoons
Freshly squeezed lemon juice
Salt and black pepper
Partridges
4 to 8 small birds
Olive oil to coat
Salt and black pepper
Freshly squeezed lemon juice
 
Start by taking the partridges out of the fridge and setting them on a cutting board to come to room temperature.

While the birds are coming to room temperature, make the tomato salad. Add all the tomato salad ingredients except the basil to a large bowl (since the basil will discolor if left too long, you’ll add it later, right before you serve). Toss to combine, and let it sit to marinate.

Spatchcock the birds while the tomato salad marinates. Spatchcocking involves cutting out the backbones of the birds and flattening them so you can grill them faster. Once your birds are flattened and partially deboned, coat them with oil and salt them well.

Get your grill very hot and make sure the grates are clean. Right before you start cooking the birds, soak a paper towel in some vegetable oil, grab the oiled paper towel with tongs, and wipe down the grill grates.

Lay the partridges on the grill breast-side up. If you have one, grab a brick, wrap it in foil, and weigh down the partridges with it; this will put the birds in better contact with the grill. Let the birds cook for 8 to 10 minutes. You want to do most of the cooking on this side; it helps keep the breast meat moister. You can also flatten the birds by setting a heavy cast-iron frying pan on them.

Turn the partridges and grill them breast-side down only until they get nice char marks, which typically takes about 2 to 3 minutes. If the birds aren’t cooked through — some will be, most won’t be — put them back on the grill, breast-side, up for a few more minutes. If they arc upward, put the brick on them.

When they’re done, remove the birds from the grill and let them rest on a cutting board for 5 minutes before serving them with the tomato salad.

For more great quail recipes be sure to check out Hank's book Pheasant, Quail, Cottontail in the Quail Forever store.