Did you know that the phrase ‘a feather in your cap’ comes from the old practice of placing a Woodcock’s feather in the band of your hat? It was to show that you had managed to bag one whilst out shooting. Woodcocks are much sought after as game birds as their tender and aromatic breast meat is highly rated. Most of the Woodcock that are shot in the UK are migratory birds flying in from Finland and Russia in the autumn to over-winter here, although we do have native populations as well.
Woodcocks are small birds that like deciduous woodland that lie close to damp ground. In the past the early arrival of migrant Woodcock in autumn was said to mean a good harvest and people used to believe that Woodcock flew to the moon during the months when they were not seen. The first full moon in November, when large numbers arrive on the British coast, is still known as the Woodcock Moon.
Woodcock can be expensive as they are notoriously tricky to shoot thanks to their low undulating flight that can rise steeply and veer erratically from side to side. However you can find fully traceable Woodcock from reputable butchers and online game specialists and I have a lovely recipe complete with 4 Bordeaux red wines to suit every pocket chosen to accompany the dish for you to try.
Roast Woodcock With Madeira Sauce
1 Brace Woodcock
2 Shallots, finely diced
2 medium Carrots, peeled and grated
2 rashers Streaky bacon
For the sauce:
1 tbsp plain Flour
10fl oz (1/2pint) Chicken stock
1 schooner Madeira
Bubble and Squeak to serve
Pluck the Woodcock but don’t draw the birds. Bring the beak round just behind the legs and skewer through the body and out the other side – this is the traditional way of preparing the birds for cooking.
Place the shallots and carrots into a small roasting tin and sit the birds on top. Divide the streaky bacon between them and place across the breasts and dot with the butter. Roast in a hot oven: 200 degrees C Gas Mark 6 for 30 minutes, basting frequently as this helps to prevent them from drying out.
Now make the bubble and squeak by frying mashed potatoes and any cooked greens together turning once.
Remove the birds from the oven and allow to rest in a warm place for a minimum of 10 minutes while you make the sauce: add the flour to the roasted vegetables in the roasting tin and stir together to combine all the ingredients.
Place the tin on the hotplate over a low heat and gradually add the stock stirring continuously to prevent the mixture from sticking.
Once the mixture has thickened add the Madeira and bring to the boil.
Pour the sauce through a sieve into a saucepan, pressing the vegetables through the sieve as much as possible, scraping any pureed vegetables from the under side and add to the sauce.
Season to taste and reduce the sauce a little if you like it slightly thicker.
Serve the Woodcock on a bed of bubble and squeak with the sauce poured over.
Chateau de Hartes 2009 (£9.40)
Chateau de Hartes is part of a beautiful old 12th century domaine whose consistently good wines have racked up more than 50 awards over the years in its native France.
The 2009 is a lovely claret made distinctive by its superb structure. It has floral aromas of violets with flavours of ripe blackcurrant, damson, blackberry, spices, herbs and a hint of pepper. With velvety tannins this is a complex and supple claret that will age well and is particularly good with feathered game.
Chateau Vrai Caillou Bordeaux Superieur 2009 (£9.85)
Chateau Vrai Caillou is a cracking Bordeaux Superieur from Soussac and the Domaine du Caillou has been in the hands of the Pommier family since 1863.
The 2009 is a dark crimson colour and is an elegant, silky, traditional claret with good structure and supple, well balanced tannins. The bouquet is packed with ripe black cherry and cassis and the flavour is full of layers of intense blackcurrants, violets, vanilla, earth and spice. This is a luscious wine and is plump and rounded with smooth tannins.
Chateau Pessan 2006 (£15.05)
Owned by the Comtes de Bournazel of the Second Growth Sauternes Chateau de Malle, Chateau Pessan lies in Graves and is a stunning claret.
The 2006 is seductively deep and silky. It is perfectly balanced, complex and beautifully layered with hints of black fruits, spice, coffee, smoke, eucalyptus, pepper and oak.
Chateau La Fleur Morange 2001 (£49.70)
Chateau La Fleur Morange is a Saint Emilion Grand Cru Classé and with its blend of 50% Merlot and 50% Cabernet Franc this well balanced, full bodied and impressive wine has great structure and sophistication. It is deep dark crimson purple in colour with notes of blackberry compote, liquorice, ripe raspberries, spice, smoke and minerals. La Fleur Morange 2001 will captivate all the flavours from the woodcock and make your experience of this dish unforgettable.
Out of interest Robert Parker called it a sleeper of the vintage and gave it a score of 92 points out of 100. He also went on to say “The impressive aromas are followed by a dense, full-bodied, beautifully textured St.Emilion with great purity as well as palate presence”.
It is drinking beautifully now and will cellar for several years to come.