Regarded as the premier upland bird (that is, they do not need to breed near water), pheasants live in farmlands and fields with bushy cover and prefer to run rather than fly.
Oven-ready game is becoming more common in supermarkets, but if you’re after more information on how long the birds have been hung for, visit a specialist dealer, farmers' market or farm shop. Butchers shop H M Sheridan in Aberdeen stocks pheasant, along with venison, partridge, pigeon and rabbit.
The meat of wild pheasants is generally stronger tasting than farm-reared birds. As it can also be tough and dry, the carcasses need to be hung for a few days to make them more tender and improve the flavour. Try smoked pheasant from The Old Knockelly Smokehouse in Thornhill, Dumfries & Galloway.
Hens are plumper and more tender than the colourful cocks, but are also smaller. This means that a one-pound bird will only be enough for a single serving. A male will be enough to serve two, although it should be cooked more slowly. The breasts are often roasted separately because the legs tend to be tough and are reserved for casseroles or sauces. Edinburgh’s Dubh Prais Restaurant on the Royal Mile features pheasant on the menu along with other meat and seafood from Scotland’s natural larder.
The partridge family is a close relative of the pheasant and comes in several varieties including red-legged partridge and the grey or British partridge, which is declining in numbers.
The red-legged partridge is larger than the grey and not under threat, therefore it is used in shoots. First introduced to the UK as a game bird, they can be reared and released with comparative ease and adapt well to living on agricultural land.
The hunting season is from September to February and again, the longer the carcasses are hung, the more gamey and tender the meat will be. In supermarkets, partridges are sold oven-ready while butchers will also prepare the birds for cooking.
As they are small, they can be roasted whole, and work well with seasonal vegetables, puy lentils and rich sauces or gravies. The breast of young birds provides the best meat and the tougher legs can be used in game pies. Both Restaurant Martin Wishart in Leith, Edinburgh and The Lime Tree in Fort William, the Highlands, have featured this game bird on their menus in the autumn and winter months.