A woodcock is a type of wild fowl that isn't a common food source in the United States, though it's certainly edible. Woodcock is prized among wild game hunters for its rich flavor that's unlike any other type of bird that's hunted for food. You won't be able to buy woodcock from the grocery store, but if you've acquired one on a recent hunting trip or from a hunter friend, you can cook it and eat it. Keep a few tips in mind and you're likely to enjoy the bird so much that you'll wish it would appear on your menu more often.
Woodcocks originally made their homes along the shores of lakes, but they're most prevalent in the wooded areas of the Great Lakes region, particularly in Wisconsin. The woodcock migrates south to Arkansas and Louisiana for the winter. The birds are typically brown with orange and red feathers that help camouflage them during the fall. Woodcocks are small birds and weigh less than a pound when they're fully grown, according to the Wisconsin Hunter website.
Flavor and Texture
The birds have a strong, gamey flavor that many hunters enjoy. Hunting the birds in the late summer and early fall will ensure that the meat is tender. Hunting later in the season often yields birds that have tougher and less juicy meat, the Wisconsin Hunter website reports. That happens as the days get colder and the birds aren't able to find as much food. The skin and meat of a woodcock is very fragile and must be prepared with care, according to Angela Humphreys, author of "Game Cookery: 120 Delicious Recipes for Game Meat and Fish." That is an advantage for the finished product, however, because it means that the meat is moist and full of flavor.
To roast a woodcock, remove the feathers and cut the bird into pieces. Arrange the pieces in a roasting pan and season them with your favorite herbs and spices. Rosemary, bay leaves and thyme pair nicely with the gamey flavor of the birds. Add vegetables, such as carrots, onions and potatoes, around the woodcock to make an entire meal in one pan. Roast the bird until it's cooked through and vegetables are tender. If you want to saute the birds, first heat oil in a skillet and brown both sides of each piece of meat. Then add cooking liquid, such as white wine, to the pan and gently simmer the birds until they're cooked through. Simmer vegetables, such as mushrooms and fresh green beans, with the woodcock to enhance the flavor even more.
Tips and Considerations
Plan on one or two woodcocks per person, depending on their size. Even a large woodcock usually only has enough meat for one person, according to Humphreys. You'll know woodcock is cooked through when it just starts to lose its color, according to Teresa Marrone, author of "Dressing and Cooking Wild Game." If you don't want the innards to flavor the finished product, remove them before cooking the woodcock. If you skip this step, the innards will liquefy and mingle with the cooking juices. This imparts flavor, but it can be quite strong, so it's up to you whether that's the taste you're looking for.
- Dressing and Cooking Wild Game; Teresa Marrone
- Game Cookery: 120 Delicious Recipes for Game Meat and Fish; Angela Humphreys
- Wisconsin Hunter: Woodcock
Sara Ipatenco has taught writing, health and nutrition. She started writing in 2007 and has been published in Teaching Tolerance magazine. Ipatenco holds a bachelor's degree and a master's degree in education, both from the University of Denver.