Woodcock on toast

Every now and then I feel like getting my hands bloody and cooking a meal totally from scratch, including all the gruesome stuff you would usually leave to your butcher. It seems only fair, as a carnivore, to go through this visceral process once in a while. My last home butchery contestants were a couple of wild rabbits. Stepping up to the plate this time was this elegant ménage à trois of Norfolk woodcock.

Woodcock on toast. Serves 3.

Pluck any stray feathers from the birds and remove their heads with a swift blow from a sharp, heavy knife. Discard*.  Leave the innards intact as they’re the tastiest bit – that’s coming from a serial offal dodger so trust me here!

Once plucked, season the birds and swaddle them in smoked streaky bacon. Top each with a knob of butter and roast in a preheated oven at top whack for 10 minutes. Turn the oven down to 160ºC, remove the bacon and return the naked birds to roast for a further 5 minutes.  Meanwhile, prepare for the gravy by roughly dicing the bacon and adding to a frying pan over a medium flame.  Remove the birds from the oven and scrape the innards into the pan with the bacon and a big glug of red wine. Squash everything together as you go to make a wonderfully rich and gamey gravy.

Toast or griddle 3 thick slices of white bread, spread with butter and spoon over the gravy. Divide the birds into breast and leg portions and lay them on top. Serve to some adventurous friends with lots of red wine. Where to for my next foray into the wild?


*Some brutal traditionalists like to roast the head too, scoop out the brains and use the skull as a spoon with the beak as a handle. Feel free to follow suit if you’re keen but I wasn’t really up for it.

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9 Responses to Woodcock on toast

  1. miss south says:

    Woodcock are amazing. We cooked them for the blog last year (and other than removing the rather bitter gizzard) found the entrails really did add something to it.

    Is it cheeky to ask where you get game in and around London? I rely on hand delivery from Yorkshire!

    • Holly Wallis says:

      There is a great guy at Broadway Market E8 every Saturday called Andy at The Wild Game Co (www.wildgameco.co.uk) stall. He always has a wide range of game, anything he doesn’t have he can usually source and his prices are very fair. I think he has a mail order service too.

      Good luck

  2. saladclub says:

    They’re delicious little things aren’t they! I tend to rely on delivery from Norfolk but you can get lots of great game from London butchers. I haven’t seen woodcock that often but there’s always plenty of pigeon, guinea fowl and pheasant at Smithfield Butchers which is open at more sociable hours than the rest of the market:

  3. miss south says:

    Thank you to both of you! I’m game to give it a go (even if I need to go hang my head in shame for that pun!)

  4. pip says:

    Haven’t tried woodcock but will certainly keep an eye out for it! mmm interesting idea… skull ‘n beak spoons!

  5. Hanna says:

    Sounds divine! I really like the first photo, though I have a lot of sqeamish friends who would be completely freaked out by it if I decided to cook this and show them the heads…

    Half-stupid question – are they sold like that, with heads on but without feathers, or did you pluck the entire birds yourself?

  6. saladclub says:

    These ones came as you see them up there from a Norfolk butcher. Heads in tact and roughly plucked (had to pluck a few stray feathers myself). If you find a good butcher though I’m sure they’ll do the squeamish bit for you!

  7. Alex says:

    Furness and Shell Seekers, at Borough Market often have woodcock. It’s got to be the most delicious game bird, in my humble opinion! And I must confess to leaving the heads and necks on (use the beak to truss the bird). I can’t quite bring myself to use the head/beak as a spoon, but the brains are a modest but very delicious treat. Gruesome, I know, but worth it!

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