Monday, 6 December 2010

Mr. Woodcock

Billy Bob Thornton as 'Mr. Woodcock'
     No, not this Mr. Woodcock.  Although if you haven't enjoyed Billy Bob in this or Bad Santa...check them out. 
     This is the woodcock in question...

Eurasian Woodcock 'Scolopax Rusticana/Becasse de bois'
     A very special little guy indeed.  I well remember first coming in contact with this prince among game birds years ago in Marco Pierre White's classic, White Heat.  I was amazed and intrigued at Marco's treatment of an old preparation, yet it was years before I finally got my hands on one of these elusive birds.  Forgive the quality of my photo...I was far too eager to snap this one properly.  No set up, just the little old point and shoot.  Rustic as it gets.  I just wanted to dive in and find out what all the fuss was about.  My verdict- justified. 
     Woodcock are a near forgotten delicacy.  These little beauties are night feeders and aren’t as plentiful as they once were, hence it is fairly rare to come across them.  I obtained a brace from Louise Huxtable, a work colleague who got them from Mr. Anthony Knockles, who shot them near Stockleigh Pomeroy.  (Traceability, people)  They are expensive so enjoy the process of feather to plate.  I hung them up outside my back door for eight days; which is sufficient in this weather,  half the time if milder.  There is no point in hanging game until it makes you gag when you cook it.  Just a few days to develop the flavour will suffice.  Woodcock really do have a superior, delicate taste that set them apart from blander pheasant or heady wood pigeon.  

'Woodcock, Lentils, Grilled Bread & Red Wine Sauce'
     One per person will be a sufficient dinner if you aren’t squeamish and eat the whole thing.  The guts are of a particular unique creaminess when spread on grilled toast and the head is typically served split so as to suck the wee morsel of brain from each half.  Very popular during Victorian and Edwardian England.  Shakespeare and Kipling reference the bird with humour and reverence respectively.  A typical garnish would be some well-seasoned lentils, game chips, grilled bread etc. 

     'Woodcock is the king of gamebirds. It's hard to shoot; it's beautiful; it has lots of breast and a wonderful flavour.  At the restaurant we roast it with its intestines to give it more flavour, than take its breast off and split the head, so the customer can eat the brains.  It's a man's dish.  You can't tart around with woodcock.  You have to cook it well and put it on the plate.'
-Marco Pierre White

     Who am I to argue?


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