Meaning “hunter” in Italian, this simple cacciatore dish with huge flavor is easy to prepare at bird camp or enjoy at home
Hungarian partridge are great birds to hunt. My favorite place to chase these amazing game birds is in Alberta, Canada. After two years, I finally made it back out to this stunning western province, only this year was special. I was going to be chasing these birds with my first bird dog, Jessie, a young Llewellin Setter.
Although it was unseasonably warm, the dogs handled it well. My pup Jessie took on her role as my hunting sidekick, pinning Huns in the hedgerows and wheat stubble. It took her a day or so to figure the birds out, but once she did, she was unstoppable. Jessie managed to point and pin eight Huns one morning for me and my buddy. I was extremely happy with her performance, especially for it being her first time on Huns.
Not only did I get to hunt with a new group of great folks and their two German Shorthaired Pointers, but, being Italian like me, they shared the same passion for eating as I do. So, I cooked up some of our Huns for my group that evening. I felt drawn to a method many bird hunters in Italy would use to prepare upland birds such as Huns: cacciatore-style. Cacciatore means “hunter” in Italian. This cooking technique doesn’t use a whole lot of ingredients and is perfect for bird camp. Using four main ingredients, it seems like a simple dish, but don’t let that fool you. It packs a huge flavor. It truly is a tender, fall-off-the-bone kind of meal; no one can resist.
The secret to this dish is cooking it low and slow. My Italian mother was a master at this style of cooking. In fact, she used to prepare rabbit this way. To this day, I still can’t match her cacciatore rabbit dish, but, according to her, I’m a close second. I took what I’ve learned from my mother and used it to prepare this dish using our fresh Huns at Alberta bird camp.
Hungarian Partridge Alla CacciatoreRossano Russo
- Dutch oven oven safe
- 4 Hungarian partridges skin on and spatchcocked
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1 small onion
- 2 cloves garlic chopped
- 1 cup white wine
- 2 sprigs rosemary fresh
- 1 cup stock gamebird or chicken, low sodium
- 1 can plum tomatoes or 6 very ripe, fresh tomatoes
- Preheat your oven to 275 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Take your spatchcocked Huns and lay them on a cutting board, breast-side up. Press down on the breast until the wishbone cracks and they lay flat.
- In a Dutch oven large enough to hold all four spatchcocked Huns, heat up the olive oil over medium-high heat.
- Salt and pepper the breast side of the Huns and place them in the pot. Start to brown them well. Do two at a time so you don’t crowd the pot. Sprinkle the cavities with some more salt and pepper. Brown them while pressing down on the different parts of the birds so you get a fairly even browning. When done, flip them over and brown the inside cavity, pressing down so the meat and rib cage make better contact with the pot. Remove birds and set aside.
- Turn the heat down to medium, add the onion and garlic to the pot, and cook until they are softened.
- Turn the heat back to medium-high and add the birds back to the pot along with the rosemary. Cook for a minute or so.
- Add the white wine and let it reduce to half.
- Once the wine is reduced, add enough stock to cover the bird halfway. Then add the tomatoes and mash them up with a fork. Salt to taste.
- Bring it to a boil, put the lid on, and put the Dutch oven into the pre-heated oven. If you don’t have an oven at bird camp, this dish can be done on a camp stove. Just cook it over low heat at a slow simmer.
- Slow cook for about 45 minutes and check for tenderness. Some birds may take longer to tenderize due to age, and some may take less due to size. Remove the ones that are done and keep them warm. Add them back to the pot later.
- Remove the Dutch oven from the oven when all the birds are done. If there is a lot of liquid left, place it on the stovetop and cook the sauce down to the desired thickness.
- The birds can be served as-is with the sauce, some good crusty bread, or served over mashed potato or polenta.
Rossano Russo is a Canadian Italian from Ontario Canada. He is an electrician by trade with a passion for photography, hunting, and cooking. Follow him on Instagram @rossanorusso.