Last day of the season

31st January 2013

Today is the last day of the shooting season in the UK for several species of game birds including Snipe Gallinago gallinago, Woodcock Scolopax rusticola.

Snipe and Woodcock are wading birds and are highly prized as game birds and are on a par with the prized Grouse taste wise .  Their small size combined with their fast zig-zag flights make them difficult targets and they rarely turn up in butcher shops, even ones that usually stock other game.

Snipe are marshland birds and very small, Woodcock as the name suggests, live in woodland and are quite a bit larger and are generally regarded as the better bird to eat.

Delicious though they are, they are perhaps not something to serve to the squeamish.  Traditionally they are not drawn (had their guts removed) although the gizzard should be removed (your butcher should do this for you) also the head is normally left on as well.

Generally it is not necessary to hang either of these birds for long, a week at most. So if you don’t want to wait until the season starts again later in the year you’ll have to be quick.

The classic way to serve both of these birds is roasted.  Simply rub some butter on the breast of the bird and cover with a rasher of bacon, tuck the head and beak under a wing and lay them in a roasting tray breast up and roast in a hot oven (230 degrees C).  About 8-15 minutes for a Snipe depending how well done you want it and 12-20 for a Woodcock.  While the birds are resting it is normal to remove the innards and cook these in some butter with the bacon that was on the breast plus any juices from the pan and a drop of wine or port. The cooked innards and the roasted bird are served on hot toast……it is also usual to split open the head and eat the brain!

Marco Pierre White used to serve a refined version of this on a bed of lentils with a red wine sauce at his first restaurant Harvey’s in Wandsworth. In his words “You can’t tart around with Woodcock. You have to cook it well and put it on a plate.”

“Woodcock, Lentilles du pay, Red Wine Sauce” taken from White Heat by Marco Pierre White

Kev Palmer

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