Woodcock is usually regarded as the finest game bird. I think of it as the Roquefort of game, with its magnificently strong flavour. Charles Forot calls it royal game and adds that a roast woodcock, ‘dans toute la cuisine, se répandra une odeur à réveiller un mort’. This is because the intestines melt when cooked, heightening the flavour of the meat; they are then scraped out of the carcass and mixed into a purée which is spread on croûtons to be served with the bird. This dish needs a splendidly full-bodied wine to accompany it – I suggest a Cornas, Crozes-Hermitage or Châteauneuf du Pape.
Melt the butter in a small lidded casserole and turn the woodcock in it over moderate heat for 8–10 minutes until lightly browned. Turn the bird on its back and season with salt and pepper. Add the shallot, thyme and wine to the pan. Cover and cook in a moderate oven (Mark 4, 180°C, 350°F) for 50–70 minutes, or until the flesh on the leg is cooked and the intestines have turned to a dark liquid. Spoon off any surplus fat.
In a bowl or mortar, pound and mix the chicken liver or foie gras with the olive oil, vinegar, mustard, parsley and brandy.
Use poultry shears to halve the bird; scrape the dark purée from inside the bird into the cooking pan. Stir in the liver purée and heat gently.
Cut the toast to the same size as the woodcock. Spread each piece with the hot purée and place the woodcock on top. Serve straight away.
© 1987 Geraldene Holt. All rights reserved.