#287 Scotch Woodcock

Here’s a quickie that was a popular savoury in Victorian times in the same vein as Locket’s savoury and Gloucester ale and cheese. None of them are really eaten these days, though most of the time they are very tasty (though also very rich; no wonder everybody had gout). Although such savouries were served at the end of a meal in those days, it is is perfect for a first course or as a light lunch these days, I reckon.
It doesn’t contain any actual woodcock, of course, but is basically anchovies and eggs on toast – the fish and eggs being a substitute for the prized game bird. Just like how Welsh Rabbit is really cheese and bread instead of the delicious meaty mammal.
This recipe makes six woodcocks:
Start by draining a tin of anchovies before mashing them with two ounces of butter. Next, get the toast ready – cut circles out of six slices of bread and toast them on both sides. Spread with butter and then the anchovy mixture. Keep warm whilst you make the eggy sauce. In a saucepan, add two egg yolks to half a pint of whipping or double cream. Beat the yolks and add pepper a little salt and a good pinch of Cayenne. Stir over a moderate heat until the sauce thickens. Spoon over the anchovies, add a flourish of chopped parsley and serve it forth. If you don’t fancy making the thickened cream sauce, make some softly scrambled eggs made with a bit of cream instead.
#287 Scotch Woodcock. Previous anchovy-based recipes in this blog have ranged from the most delicious to the worst and most bizarre. This one however can join the ranks of the delicious. The intense saltiness of the anchovies was balanced very well with the bland creamy sauce. Very, very good. I ended up eating three and it gave me stomach ache. Hey-ho, you’ve to take the rough with the smooth in life aintcha? Tres bon, 8/10.

#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.