Woodcock - A Complete Guide

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Without doubt my favourite game bird bar none, for me the king of the game birds and a real treat for any food lover. Woodcocks, like grouse and snipe are difficult to find, they are hard to shoot and because of this can command a high price which only the serious game aficionados are usually willing to pay


Woodcock and snipe are closely related, they both have distinctive long beaks but the woodcock is the larger of the two weighing around 11-12 oz/325 g. To find either bird in a butchers shop will be difficult to say the least so better to make friends with someone who shoots.

Woodcock is generally regarded as the superior to snipe, its flavour is quite superb and I always cook the bird with its intestines still in place and its head on, skinned with the neck twisted to allow the beak to be pushed through the legs and body for roasting.

I wrap the breasts in Italian streaky bacon (pancetta) and cook them in a mixture of goose fat and butter flavoured with juniper berries, garlic and strong herbs. They do not need long in the oven, take them out and leave them to rest; the end product will be the better for it.

To me woodcock is for the serious gourmand, which is why I serve it with the feet still intact and with the head split through the middle so that the tiny, soft brain can be scooped out. Traditionally the bird is served on bread, which has been roasted under the carcase with the cooked intestines removed and spread over the bread, but I like to chop the liver and kidneys up and use them as a thickening and flavouring agent for my sauce.

Mid-winter is usually the best time for woodcock, do not leave them to hang for too long, I find three to four days more than enough.

How to Cook Woodcock

Content and picture Miles Collins