Slay to Gourmet: Fried Woodcock


“Slay” photos by Jon Wipfli, edited by Matt Lien; “Gourmet” photos by Matt Lien

Upland hunters may be reluctant to spend their limited time in the field to hunt woodcock due to the small bag limit, or perhaps they just don’t know how good they taste. For whatever reason, woodcock has remained an afterthought in the fall hunting cycle dominated by pheasant and ducks—that is, until now. Fluttering through the Midwest in search of food, these migratory birds have an extended layover here during the month of October, and when they’re here, they’re abundant—and a blast to hunt.


Dog retrieving woodcock in the field // Photo by Jon Wipfli, edited by Matt Lien

Woodcock, aka timberdoodles, are one of the tastiest game birds in the forest (in this chef’s opinion). They’re small, each bird packing only about a third of a pound in edible protein, but they have a strong, livery flavor that’s unique among game birds. The woodcock has been heralded by great chefs and eaters such as Paul Bocuse and Jim Harrison. Notable game chef Hank Shaw even suggests that, “the earth moves when you bite into one.” That might be a bit of a stretch, but you get the point.

There are many options for cooking these birds—roasted whole, seared and basted, or simmering away in a stew. Instead, I decided to keep it simple with an elevated version of breaded and fried woodcock.


Photo by Jon Wipfli, edited by Matt Lien

No matter which route you choose, I’d recommend plucking them rather than breasting them out. Also, make sure to eat the oft-neglected legs: they’re the best bites on the bird. Don’t forget to have hot sauce nearby.

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