One Way to Cook a Woodcock

February 17, 2011 | By | 9 Replies More

Looks...tasty?

And some things we don’t understand…

Woodies don’t exactly have a rep for being good table fare. We’ve seen a few guys almost drool over the thought of woodcock prepared so-and-so way, but most comments have been along the lines of the old brick joke: Prepare woodcock, put in oven with brick, when the bird is done throw it out and eat the brick.

Okay, not that bad – good appetizer – but not the best either. It’s for sure not ruffed grouse.

So we’re always interested in recipes that claim to make woodies into mouth-watering food, short of slapping woodcock breast between the patties of a Big Mac. Which is why we read a piece by Hank Shaw – who scribes the well-regarded website Hunter Angler Gardener Cook – published on theatlantic.com. Excerpts that stood out for us, plus the usual semi-witty commentary [in brackets]:

> Almost all who have eaten them say that woodcock is the king of game birds, greater even than canvasback duck. The flavor of woodcock is said to be strong, gamey-in-a-good-way, and like nothing else. They say the earth moves when you bite into one that has been perfectly cooked: pink, and just a little bloody. [Who are these people and what have they done to their taste buds. Scotch bonnets maybe?]

> I have still never shot a woodcock. But thanks to the power of the Internet—and FedEx—I managed to find myself in possession of three woodcock this week…. I proposed a trade [with a reader of his blog]: Oregon white truffles for timberdoodles.

> I knew there was only one real way to cook these birds, and that was to roast them simply. Looking over literally scores of old recipes, most from before World War I, the dominant method of cooking is in a “quick” oven for 10 to 20 minutes. Bacon or salt pork is put on the breast briefly, then taken off. The birds are served on toast and often with Cumberland sauce. [That sauce looks awesome.]

> Looking at the roasted bird, there was one more thing: Its breast meat was dark and its leg meat was light—the exact opposite of every other bird I know. Weird. [Dang, now we’re going to have to make a point of saving the legs….]

> Ever-so-slightly gamey, dense and juicy. While the bird was good by itself, it was pure magic when eaten with a little piece of crisp toast and a smear of the Cumberland sauce.

[The next one is a doozy.]

> I kept finding myself mentally comparing woodcock with ruffed grouse, which to me is the game bird that tastes the closest to a timberdoodle —and, I hate to say it, I prefer the ruffed grouse. Grouse is gamier, funkier, more powerful than the delicate woodcock.

[Hank, while we are far from cooks of your caliber, this makes no sense to us. A running ruffed grouse is the mildest-tasting bird on the planet, even more so than a chicken. Woodies fly a lot and only eat worms. We invite you to hunt and eat with us next year so one of us can figure this out…which reminds us of the following.]

> Even so, I am not disappointed. I’ve now eaten almost every game bird in North America (several grouse species still elude me) and I can say that I can think of no better banquet than one that begins with a course of delicate, tender woodcock, moves on to roast ruffed grouse, pauses for an interlude of grilled doves or snipe, and reaches its zenith with a main course of seared canvasback duck, glistening with fat and glittering with sea salt. That would be living.

[Yes on the woodcock first – often with cheese, crackers, hot sauce and beer or wine, depending on the day – grouse second. As for the rest…can we come over for dinner sometime man?]

Check out Hank’s woodie recipe here.

Category: Recipes, Woodcock

Comments (9)

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  1. LRR says:

    Oh, please. Woodcock are delicious. You just can’t be scares of a little red meat. Medium-rare is perfect. Balsamic & dijon marinade with a little minced shallot; You’ll be an convert too. I promise.

  2. HankShaw says:

    You bet I’ll hunt with you! I am always up for ruffed grouse hunting. Big reason why my birds might taste different from some others: I hang my birds, ungutted and in the feather, for 3-5 days at about 50 degrees. It’s that hang time that gives you that funkiness with grouse.

    Of course, it could also be local diet. The ruffies I’ve eaten were from the far north of Minnesota, and they were eating a lot of hazel catkins at the time.

  3. Joe says:

    Call me Crazy but I Like Timberdoodlers more than grouse (and I love grouse). I fillet the breast and remove the fat. Sear to medium rare in butter or olive oil. salt and pepper. I love the darker livery taste. You also might think I am nutz but I actually tried eating the legs and they are the best tasty morsel you can imagine. I was super surprised. Try it. Zero tendens unlike grouse and the meat is white and taste totally different. Hardly any meat but a nice bite non the less.

  4. K Fjelstad says:

    I quit shooting woodcock 5 years ago, since I always eat what I kill. I’ve tried tons of different recipes & they still taste terrible! I can’t justify killing a gamebird that someone else might find tasty and having to feed it to my dog. Wish they tasted better, ’cause they’re sure fun to hunt.

  5. GW Biggs says:

    Woodcock are delicious… but certainly NOT like grouse. As mentioned, the legs are light meat and worth saving. Like all red breast meat, including ducks, geese, and doves, the key to delicious timberdoodle is to treat it like steak, not poultry. Hot and fast cooking til rare or medium-rare will leave such bird meat reminding you of beef or venison… definitely not poultry. If you don’t like it at this point, you must not care for steak much either.

  6. Andy says:

    I’ve got to agree with those who love the taste of the timberdoodle. Just can’t overcook the breast. And never throw away those tasty legs!
    Also agree w/ Hank regarding improving grouse (that have unexploded viscera…) with a little hang time.
    You’re aware the posted picture is of the European species?

  7. GerardH says:

    Woodcock should be treated like beef — don’t overcook and leave it a little pink in the middle.

    And yes, that picture is of an European Woodcock.

  8. Jerry says:

    Saute the legs in butter with chopped garlic over a low heat. They make a great appitizer that all will love.

  9. Nate says:

    Try it on the grill. First, debone the breast, Salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle on a little red pepper and wrap in bacon. Grill to medium rare, like you would with steak. Good stuff!

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