Saturday, March 9, 2013

Baked Eurasian Woodcock

There are a number of species of woodcock. The American woodcock, sometimes called the timberdoodle, is found in eastern North America. The Eurasian woodcock is found in temperate and subarctic Eurasia. It is found in woodlands with a patterned reddish-brown upper-parts and buff underparts. The head is barred with black and it has large eyes on the sides of its head.
It has a long straight bill which it uses to probe the ground for food. The males are much larger than the females and it appears, from looking at pictures, that the one I received in an on-line order was a female. 
It was obtained from a private estate in West Sussex, England. 

Mrs. Beeton's Book of Household Management, published in 1861 in London, gives a recipe for roast woodcock. The woodcock should not be gutted as the innards are considered a "great delicacy." Pluck the bird, truss them with the legs close to the body and the feet pressing upon the thighs. Skin the neck and head and bring the beak "round under the wing." Coat them with flour. Put a slice of toast in the dripping pan to catch the drippings. Roast them near a fire from 15 to 20 minutes if you like them underdone and 25 minutes if you like them well done, basting them regularly. Put the roasted woodcock on the toast which collected the drippings and pour on some gravy.

Rudyard Kipling's Debits and Credits is a collection of stories, poems and scenes from a play, including a story called "Sea Constables", about sailors patrolling of the coast over dinner. Nicolas Freeling, a British novelist who died in 2003, wrote a non-fiction book called The Kitchen in 1970, in which he narrates a dinner described in "Sea Constables" which featured woodcock. It states, "the woodcock has no gall, and is not cleaned [...] the creamy inside parts are spread on toast..."

For a more modern treatment, woodcock is one of the 1001 Foods You Must Taste Before You Die. It notes, "Woodcocks are valued not only for their meat but for their entrails: they are always cooked with them in, although the gizzard is removed... In France, the birds are seasoned with lemon juice, salt, and spices, and combined with brandy and foie gras or fatty bacon; in the Italian beccacce alla norcina, they are made into a delicious stuffing with sausages, butter, herbs,and, when in season, black truffle. In Britain, the entrails are eaten on toast." It goes on to say that the "entrails are surprisingly mild: creamy, rich, and smooth, with slightly liverish notes."

I plucked the woodcock and cleaned it, 
cutting it open at the chest and removing the insides (I didn't discover the recipe for cooking it with its innards intact until afterwards). 
I had some Scottish hare and grouse that I wanted to cook with the woodcock, so I combined them in a baking dish and wrapped them in bacon and added onions and cooked them at 325 degrees in the oven. The woodcock was excellent. 

It was moist, meaty, mild, with just a hint of a livery taste in a couple of bites. I find myself wanting to try it again, this time the traditional way, trussed, innards intact, roasted on a grill and eaten with toast. 


  1. I'll skip the innards, thank you, even if served on toast.

  2. Wood cocktail too cute to eat