Roasted Woodcock with Truffled Celeriac and Boulangère Potatoes
Portion/Yield:Serves 2 as a main course
There is something very grown up and sophisticated about this special dish. Cooking woodcock is something I personally do not take lightly. I feel this huge sense of responsibility and respect for these beautiful seasonal birds, partly because they are a delicacy and are hugely expensive, but also because they have a short season that comes around only once a year. When eating woodcock, it should be treated like ‘the last supper’. No expenses are spared, and pairing woodcock with other ingredients should be done with plenty of consideration and precision.
Woodcock take me back to the days when I worked as a commis chef in London for the great Rowley Leigh. He evoked the obsession of seasonal cooking in me – a lovely memory of the good old days. Chef Rowley liked his game well hung and smelling and tasting, well, shall we say rather gamey! As a young commis chef, I did not really get it and when cleaning the fridges out after a long and hard day’s work, the smell of the matured grouse and woodcock used to get me right in the stomach. In those days, I did not understand the reasoning behind it all. But then I ‘grew up’ and learned the tradition where they roasted the birds whole and served the brains and guts as a paté on toasted brioche. I suppose this is where I get the respect for these birds from – the good old days training to become a chef and food lover.
Ingredients & Method
For the Boulangère potatoes
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, plus extra for greasing
- 2 banana shallots, sliced
- 2–3 sprigs of fresh thyme, leaves only
- 4 large Desiree potatoes
- 250ml hot white chicken stock
- sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper
For the truffled celeriac
- 250g celeriac
- 50g unsalted butter
- 100ml white wine
- 1 teaspoon truffle oil
For the roasted woodcock
- 2 whole woodcocks, plucked
- 4 rashers streaky bacon (preferably unsmoked)
- a little sunflower oil, for cooking
- 4 banana shallots, finely sliced
- a sprig of fresh thyme
- 1 tablespoon coriander seeds 1
- 150ml red wine
- 500ml game stock
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
Make the Boulangère potatoes first and make this part of the dish a day in advance, if you like. Preheat the oven to 160°C/Gas Mark 3 and grease two individual 9 x 6cm ovenproof ramekins with butter.
Melt the remaining tablespoon of butter in a saucepan and sweat the shallots, with salt and pepper added, for 7–8 minutes or until the shallots are transparent and tender. Stir in the thyme leaves, then remove from the heat and set aside.
Peel and thinly slice the potatoes (preferably using a mandolin), then rinse them and drain well. Place a single layer of potato slices over the base of each prepared ramekin and season with salt and pepper, top this with a layer of cooked shallots, then pour over some stock. Repeat these layers until the ramekins are full, finishing with a layer of potato slices.
Bake in the oven for 40–50 minutes or until cooked, tender and golden brown. Remove from the oven and leave to cool, then cover and chill in the fridge overnight.
The next day, preheat the oven to 180°C/Gas Mark 4 and reheat the potatoes in the oven (either in the ramekins or turned out on to a greased baking tray) for 20–25 minutes or until hot throughout. If the potatoes start to brown too much, simply cover the dishes with foil. Keep hot until ready to serve.
Meanwhile, for the truffled celeriac, peel and cut the celeriac into wedges (as you would cut a cake), then cut each wedge into 1/2-cm-thick slices. Heat half of the butter in a non-stick frying pan and once the butter starts to foam, add the celeriac slices, the remaining butter and salt and pepper and sauté over a medium heat for 9–10 minutes or until the celeriac starts to colour. Once it is golden brown, pour the wine into the pan and let it bubble, stirring and scraping the base of the pan to deglaze it, then cover the pan and cook for 10–12 minutes or until the celeriac is tender. Remove the lid and if there is a lot of liquid left in the pan, boil until it has reduced enough to coat the celeriac slices. Remove from the heat, stir in the truffle oil, then set aside and keep warm until needed.
In the meantime, for the roasted woodcock, preheat the oven to 200°C/Gas Mark 6. Remove the head from each bird and reserve, then place 1 bacon rasher over each breast. Place both birds in a roasting tin and roast in the oven for 14 minutes. Remove from the oven and transfer the birds to a cooling rack. Remove the legs from the birds, then return the legs to the roasting tin and roast for a further 10 minutes. Meanwhile, let the roasted birds (now minus the legs) rest for 10 minutes.
While the woodcock are roasting, heat a dash of sunflower oil in a saucepan and sauté the woodcock heads, shallots, thyme and coriander seeds together until the shallots are dark brown but not burned. Add the red wine and bubble until reduced by half. Add the stock and bring to the boil, then simmer over a low heat for 10 minutes.
Remove the guts from the roasted birds – the guts should have turned into a soft paté – and stir them into the simmering sauce. Pass the sauce through a fine sieve into a serving jug and season to taste with salt and pepper. Keep hot.
Remove the bacon and breasts from the woodcock crowns, keeping the skin on the breasts. Melt the butter in a hot, non-stick frying pan and once the butter is foaming, add the breasts, skin-side down, and the bacon, and cook for about 2 minutes or until the breasts are crisp.
Serve the roasted woodcock breasts and legs and bacon on serving plates with the warm truffled celeriac and Boulangère potatoes alongside. Serve with purple sprouting broccoli. Serve the hot sauce separately on the side.
Spare no expense and serve this delicious meal – a real labour of love – with a good quality red wine. You need something with a full body and a robust character.