Every winter, woodcock migrate south and lure hunters and bird dogs into dense timber and thorny tangles of blackberry bushes. This season I got to hunt timberdoodles for the first time on public lands in deep East Texas.
The soft, sandy soil in this area creates a perfect woodcock habitat. It’s a place as rich in Southern tradition as it is yaupon and pine trees. The folks who live out there are honest and good-hearted, the kind of people who are willing to help a stranger out of mud or tell you where to hunt but expect nothing in return.
I prepared the woodcock the way I would eat any other humble meal in East Texas: with a little Cajun influence. These worm-eating birds are robust in flavor, but it’s an acquired taste for some. But when cooked right, they are flat out incredible.
As with all wild game, you do not want to overcook woodcock. The thighs are white but the breast meat is dark red. You’ll want to serve those a little pink in the middle. This method of blackening over a hot cast iron will give you a good sear and crust on the outside, perfect for plucked and spatchcocked birds.
Dove or quail are great substitutes if you don’t have woodcock.
Time to make
9-12 whole woodcock, doves or quail (preferably plucked)
2 tbsp. butter
2 tbsp. flour
1 small green bell pepper, finely chopped
2 celery sticks, finely chopped
1/2 large onion, finely chopped
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1 1/2 cups chicken/blonde stock
1 can petite diced tomatoes (14oz.)
1 tbsp. hot sauce
1/2 tbsp. Worcestershire
1 tsp. dried thyme
Extra oil or clarified butter for cooking
Salt and pepper to taste
Chopped green onions and parsley for garnish
Serve with rice, cheesy grits or french bread
Also works with
Dove, quail, snipe, partridge, chukar
- Spatchcock the birds by using scissors to cut along each side of the spine and remove it. Flip over the bird and smash with your palm to flatten. Pat extremely dry and/or leave in the fridge uncovered overnight to dry out the skin. This helps the skin crisp when searing.
- Make the Creole. Melt butter in a medium-sized pot over medium heat. Once it begins to foam, sprinkle in the flour, whisking constantly to avoid clumps. Continue to whisk and cook the roux until the color turns to brown, about 10 minutes. The hotter the pan, the faster this will happen. Keep stirring to avoid burning!
- Add the Holy Trinity (bell pepper, celery and onion) and continue to cook until soft. Keep stirring to avoid anything burning or sticking to the sides and creating clumps. Add the garlic and cook an additional minute.
- Slowly pour in the stock. Keep stirring to smoothly blend the mixture. Once incorporated, add the tomatoes, hot sauce, Worcestershire and thyme.
- Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low and let the Creole simmer for 30-45 minutes to reduce. Taste and season with salt and pepper at the end if needed.
- When the Creole is about 15 minutes from being done, start to cook the woodcock. Season each bird with a generous amount of Creole spice both over and under the skin.
- Heat a large cast iron over medium-high heat. Add about a tablespoon of oil and lay three or four birds in the pan, or however many fit without overcrowding, skin side down. Use a spatula to press the birds down flat, browning the skin. Let them sear for three minutes and then flip over and cook for an additional two minutes. You want them to still be a little pink in the middle. Transfer the cooked birds to a warmer and finish searing the remaining birds.
- Serve the woodcock with the Creole sauce and rice, grits and/or french bread. Garnish with green onions and parsley.