To Vejer de la Frontera to find out how the Spanish cook partridge. This all came about because Sandy Manson, who is the chief executive of accountants Johnston Carmichael, has a sister, Annie, who runs cooking courses at her stunning, white, hilltop home in the middle of Vejer.
Our friends the Megawatts, (they have a wind farm) asked if we would like to go along because apart from anything else it is very close to Jerez, where the sherry comes from. So there was going to be a sherry opportunity as well.
I have to admit I have never shot partridges in Spain and tend to use sherry to rescue indifferent gravy. But Spanish wild partridge shooting is considered the next best thing to grouse in Scotland and I am sure it is. Except in Spain they tend to have beaters on horseback who drive the birds off the tops of mountainous plateaux.
Eight guns can shoot 500 wild birds a day and you have your own picker upper who keeps your score; which is rather un-British. So if anyone knows about cooking partridges in sherry, it is the Spanish.
Annie was terrifically enthusiastic and several of the recipes, notably Moroccan marinade which can be made up and kept for months, also worked with lamb, fish and pheasant, and possibly duck. It was hard to think what it didn’t work with.
The two partridge recipes we tried were really adapted versions of those used by Pepi, Annie’s sparkling Spanish assistant who learnt her cooking from her mother. In one recipe the birds were split open like a spatchcock chicken and in the other, halved.
Both recipes called for huge (to us) quantities of olive oil and “Lots of fino/oloroso”. The heavy work was done by Annie and Pepi while the rest of us did laborious things like peel onions and gut anchovies we had bought at the fish market that morning in tuna capital Barbate, along with a large pink fish called a pargo, which we baked in a thick crust of salt.
Annie kept producing sherry and wine so that we could see which one worked best with which dish. And that was just lunch. We learned to use smoked, rather than ordinary, paprika; clean a steel with a school rubber, construct a Paella de Pepi, not fry in extra virgin olive oil (use ordinary), and bake an almond and orange cake.
We went fatly to sleep on the beach and swam just about where they fought the Battle of Trafalgar and then started cooking again. For four days. We did a tapas tour, and had Sunday breakfast in Cadiz and sherry in Jerez at the Bodegas Tradicion where the owners keep a brace of Goyas, an El Greco and tiles painted by Picasso. Now I just have to shoot a partridge, or six.