#128 Woodcock

Here’s something I wasn’t sure I’d ever actually get to cook! The woodcock is Britain’s smallest game bird – it’s very well camouflaged and hides away in scrub and hedgerows, and is quite uncommon. All this adds up to a meat you don’t see everyday. However, I was the Frost the Butcher in Chorlton buying some mutton for a pie, when I saw a huge standing freezer full of game saw the typical stuff – venison, rabbit, pigeon and there – tucked away on the bottom shelf – a brace of woodcock. Obviously I snapped them up, only to find they were 15 quid each! I bought just the one, natch.

Finding the woodcock was exciting, as I am now officially a food geek – however I was feeling a little trepidation; this is definitely the first really extreme thing I’ve made from the cook book. Woodcock is considered a delicacy not just because it’s so hard to get hold of, but also because pretty much the whole thing is eaten. Essentially, the bird is roasted rare, whole and completely intact (except the eyes are removed and it is plucked) and trussed with its own beak. The trail of the bird (i.e. the guts, liver etc) is spread on fried bread and the head is split in two so that you can use the beak of one half to prize out the brain from the other.

Woodcock trussed with its own beak

Here’s what to do if you happen upon this little birdie:

Preheat your oven to 220°C. Start off by trussing the bird with it’s beak by spearing the thighs to keep them closed up together. Season the breasts and cover liberally with butter so it doesn’t dry out. Place on a small roasting tin and cook for 18-20 minutes. Whilst that is happening, fry one slice of white bread per bird gently in butter, placing it under the woodcock(s) for the final 5 minutes of cooking. When the time is up, remove the bread and place on a warmed plate and allow the bird to rest for 5 or 10 minutes in the pan. Next, using a knife and/or spoon scoop out the trail (everything except the gizzard – which is actually hard to get to, so it’s unlikely you’ll accidently scoop it out). Spread the trail on the toast. Cut off the head and cut it in half lengthways so that you can use the beak to remove the brain from the halves. You can serve the bird whole or remove the breasts if you like.

The final dish

#128 Woodcock. How on Earth am I going to score this one!? Eating the innards of a bird wasn’t something I was going to relish – but I did relish the idea of eating something very traditional but very out-of-favour. From that point of view – an excitement rating – 10/10. Flavour-wise, the breast meat was very gamey indeed – the smaller the bird, the stronger the flavour – it was so rich that it would have been more than enough for one person. The thigh meat was horrible though – just tasted of dead animal. Bizarrely, the best bit was the trail on toast. The intestines were very soft and there was nothing chewy, though it took some courage to make the first bite. Turns out it tastes a bit like Marmite. Very nice. The brain didn’t really taste as strong as the trail, but was soft and slightly greasy in texture; it appealed to my sudden manly bloodlust though. So overall, it is a high scorer, but not too high – I don’t want to give it loads of marks because of the novelty, so on flavour alone, I reckon it’s worthy of 6/10.

One thought on “#128 Woodcock

  1. 6.5/10. I was pretty dubious when i saw it\’s innards popped out, all in-tact, intestines all over some toast, but once i put it in my mouth it was damn tasty, deffo has a marmite flavour to it, super strong and flavoursome. The brain was a bit clacky, stuck to the roof of my mouth, but tasted ok enough, not much flavour to it after having them lovely innards but still worth a try. Not for the faint hearted.


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