Sunday, April 7, 2013

Roasted Woodcock - Mrs. Beeton's Way

I did a post on baked woodcock about a month ago and noted that I'd found the way it was traditionally cooked in England in Mrs. Beeton's Book of Household Management published in 1861. It was too late for that bird, so I decided to get another one and try it. 
Eurasion woodcock from England
Instead of gutting the bird, and cutting off the head and lower legs, I plucked it well, and left all of the limbs and the head intact. 
Plucked woodcock, limbs and head still attached.
Mrs. Beeton says to pluck the bird and skin the neck and head. Then truss the legs close to the body with the feet pressing against the thighs. Then bring the beak "round under the wing." I actually trussed the beak to the breast bone, using white twine, and it worked out fine. 
Trussed woodcock.
Then coat the trussed bird in flour and roast it on a fire from 15 to 20 minutes if you like it underdone and 25 minutes if you like it well done, basting it regularly. Put a slice of toast in a dripping pan to catch the drippings, then put the roast woodcock on the toast which collected the drippings and pour on some gravy. 

I had to improvise, and never did figure out how to use a dripping pan. I put my outdoor grill on high and held the bird over the fire using tongs and hot pads over my hands, switching hands frequently as one hand started to get hot. I used olive oil mixed with sea salt to baste it. After the bird started to cook, regular drips occurred from the anal opening and by the end of the cooking time, a relatively large whole had opened up around the anus and the bottom of the torso. I can see that a drip pan would have caught all of that wonderful juice that fed the fire on my grill. I cooked it about 25 minutes, but because of the frequent hand switching and re-positioning of the tongs away from the grill, the cooking time was probably more like it would have been if it had been 15 to 20 minutes straight. 
Roasted woodcock, still trussed.
Roasted woodcock, untrussed.
1001 Foods You Must Taste Before You Die notes that the "entrails are surprisingly mild: creamy, rich, and smooth, with slightly liverish notes." It also says that the gizzard is removed. I started to chew on the gizzard, not realizing what it was and quickly spit it out as I felt the different hard objects inside scraping around. I noted the heart, liver and lungs and I think they would have been quite tasty on toast with the drippings. The livery taste was more than slight, but I was able to enjoy the earthy taste of the insides. The breast also had a bit of a livery taste, but it was moist and quite good. 

There is something nice about the head being attached to remind you that you are  eating a once living creature.
I ate the vast majority of the bird. 
There is something satisfying about doing things the old way. In our modern world of packaged foods and microwaves we lose out on so much. We not only become disconnected with the source of our food, and the animal life that must be taken when we eat meat, but we also are in an age when unnatural connections are being forged, birds cooped up in small enclosures, eating foods they did not naturally consume. There is the additional aspect of the greater time that must be spent to prepare the food, from plucking the bird, to roasting it. It was an enjoyable and learning experience. One worth doing. I'm glad for the second chance to try woodcock. 


  1. Okay, maybe I should have tried a little piece. That head looking at me was hard to get past.

  2. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. This is NOT going to happen again in USA. Robert, you are one lucky guy.