Sunday, 20 January 2013

Roast Woodcock on Toast

I can't stress enough how strong my feelings are for woodcock. It's real love I think. I first came across the tiny little guys two years ago and they are one of my favourite things I have ever tasted. Quite a statement I know, but it's true. I now remember vividly every time I have eaten them since. Only three times, but they were three magical times indeed. Once was only a taste of TLI's in a restaurant where I idiotically ordered venison when I could have ordered woodcock, and twice I've been given some from a shoot and cooked them myself. They are far and away the best thing I've ever cooked; but that is down to them, not me...

I was beginning to worry that this shooting season was fast coming to an end and there was another year passing without a taste of wonderful woodcock. But last week I heard my phone beep in the other room and suddenly there was TLI holding my phone, grinning, telling me I had a new message... It read 'I have three woodcock for you' I don't think I've ever read six better words...

They are beautiful, tiny birds, a little bit magical looking I think, with big eyes and a very long beak. I have an affection for them that I don't have for say a pheasant. It feels an honour to have one to eat, so I take great care with them and really appreciate every mouthful as they are such special little birds. They travel over in the winter from as far as central Russia, Belarus and Scandinavia, arriving tired and bewildered over the North East coast. Before people understood migration there were several wonderful stories about where they appeared from and where they disappeared to. It was thought by some that they arrived by full moon and come summer they went back to the moon for a few months, living on the lunar landscape. Others thought they buried themselves in the sand on the beach and crawled out come winter. In fact they are just delicate little things and are often found exhausted on the beach during winter, having flown over on freezing cold winds from the East.

The only way I have ever eaten them and probably the only way I ever will as it is so delicious is simply roast on toast. You make a pate type sauce with their insides and some red wine and spread that on the toast. It may sound a little unusual but it is totally delicious. If you are lucky enough to find yourselves with a couple of woodcock this is how I cooked them.

Start by spreading a little soft butter on their breast, a little salt and pepper and then one slice of streaky bacon cut in two laid over each bird in a cross. Roast for 16 minutes at 230°C for a pink rare bird, 20 minutes for well done, but I would recommend them pink. When they are ready take them out of the oven. Remove the bacon, and scoop out the insides with a teaspoon. They empty their guts before they fly so don't hold anything nasty inside them, so everything is edible, except the gizzard. It is about the size of a hazelnut and quite obvious when you've scooped everything out. When you have done this cover them with foil on a hot plate and rest for 10 minutes.

To make the sauce chop up the bacon and fry it in a knob of butter until crispy, add the insides of the woodcock and mash it all up with a fork over a medium heat. Then add a couple of teaspoons of red wine per bird and bubble for a minute or two. Spread this onto a piece of thick buttered toast and top with a roast woodcock. Serve with mash or roast potatoes, game chips, buttered cabbage, whatever you fancy...

The woodcock is rich and gamey and delicious, my favourite of all game, not overpowering at all just rich and tasty. The pate type sauce is just one of my favourite things ever, irony, meaty, delicious with buttery toast and amazing meat. A highlight of the culinary year for me and it's only the end of January...


  1. Intrigued. Want to try woodcock, but not sure how much I want to pluck one. Have you done the thing where you split the head in two and eat the brains?!

  2. It's a bit sad to pluck them as they are such beautiful little things. Yes I have done the brain thing, it was nice, creamy, like butter!

  3. Woodcock on the menu at the Feathers at the moment. Roads are clear and fires are roaring.

  4. Woodcock on the menu at the Feathers at the moment. Probably the last of the season. Roads are clear and the fires are roaring.

  5. 6 more just arrived on my doorstep on Monday... it's feast or famine!


Happy cooking! Let me know if you make any of my recipes, send a picture, and let me know any of your own recipes and tips! Anna x