Two weeks ago – the same day I ate dried bugs – I stumbled upon another of Chinatown’s grotesque oddities: fresh partridge. (Fresh, of course, meaning dead and for sale.) I’d never seen partridge eaten before, and I’d certainly never thought of having one myself. But with Christmas around the corner, the thought of turning the birds into a meal was inescapably appealing. Obviously it would have be served in a pear *something*, but what would that *something* be? Partridge in a Pear Demiglaze? Partridge in a Pear Tortilla? After much googling, the answer became clear: Partridge in a Pear Treacle.
Treacle, I learned, is basically British molasses. All I’d have to do is prepare a treacle/pear sauce and douse the birds in it before roasting. Simple.
Or so I thought.
The one little element of my plan that I really underestimated was cleaning the partridges. These weren’t Purdue Ready-Made Partridge Breasts, they were straight-up carcasses. The most obvious starting points were the heads. They needed to come off. Next was to dislocate and snap off the disgusting little bird feet (a task by far creepier than the decapitation). After that, things got a little hairier. I knew I needed to take stuff out of the cavity, but what? And how?
This is where Laura came in, yelling out instructions from the safety of the computer in the next room. (I should clarify: she was safe from the sight of the partridges… not from the smell). Loosely following her guidelines, I snipped off the butt, cut out the spine, and started rummaging around the organs. “Everything must go” was pretty much my philosophy, and I carried it out like a surgeon in a hurry.
That’s when I heard a pretty disheartening sidenote from the next room over: apparently, if I punctured a couple particular organs by mistake, the entire bird would be contaminated with harmful bacteria. Of course, I had no way of knowing what those organs looked like or whether or not they’d been punctured thus far in the operation. Great.
I began weighing my options. Could I get away with it? I mean, I’d been talking up this meal for a while, I’d gotten all the weird ingredients together, I’d even snapped off all those creepy little legs already – what would be the harm in following through with it? What were the chances the things would actually be infected? Probably pretty small. But then I saw Laura sitting at the computer. Was I willing to take a gamble with her health? Could I chance her being sick as a dog every day until Christmas?
I looked back down at the little mangled birds, picked them up, and threw them in the trash. Not worth it. I know that decision probably seems like a total no-brainer for most people, but I think I grew up a little in that moment. It’s not that eating the partridges would have been adventurous, it would have been reckless. I guess it’s the first time I really acknowledged that difference, and the gratification I instantly felt confirmed it all.
As for dinner, we decided to celebrate the season with Indian take-out. The Dal Tadka may not have been a holiday pun, but it was delicious just the same. In the morning, we even got a chance to polish off the rest of the ingredients with broiled treacle pears (served alongside awesome egg, beet, and carrot sandwiches Laura made).
Partridge in a Pear Treacle isn’t gone forever. I’m sure I’ll visit it again after I figure out how to really handle dead birds. Until then, whoever wants to beat me to it is more than welcome… just don’t puncture anything.