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The Anglia region is a source of rich pickings during the game season, says Jordan Ryan, head chef of The Weeping Willow in Barrow, Suffolk, and shares his recipe for woodcock





Well, here it is, my first article of 2024. My apologies on missing the January article- as you can imagine work was incredibly busy, so unfortunately I had to miss it but we’re back and ready to start with a bang.

I’m going to write today about game. Although the game season is coming to an end for birds such as pheasant, partridge and woodcock, there is still so much venison coming through it is fantastic.

Venison is one of my favourite meats to eat, not only is it delicious, it’s very high in protein, low in fat, which means it is a very lean meat and it is so much more sustainable than the likes of beef and lamb. It is said the carbon footprint of venison is 38 per cent lower than beef and 49 per cent lower than lamb, which is massive!

Jordan's Roasted Woodcock Crown, Confit and Fried Leg, with Coffee Spelt Salsify, Turnip Puree and Puffed Rice
Jordan's Roasted Woodcock Crown, Confit and Fried Leg, with Coffee Spelt Salsify, Turnip Puree and Puffed Rice

We’re again incredibly lucky in East Anglia to have such fantastic gamekeepers and estates which maintain these beautiful animals. In Denham, which is about half a mile from the Willow, there is Denham Estate which is huge, covering 800 acres and they are very well known in the hospitality industry for fallow deer, while up in Norfolk we have Houghton Hall, which I had the pleasure of visiting last year.

Houghton Hall has 1,000 acres of land for its deer to roam and they have an impressive collection of deer, boasting the largest herd of white fallow in the UK, with 500 of them. But as well as that, they have 70 Japanese Sika Deer, 150 Elite Red Deer Hinds and some Chinese Water deer on the estate. On my trip there last year we got to go around the grounds and see where they live, where they feed and learn a lot about these animals – it was amazing and I’d recommend going to visit.

The dish I am going to talk about was on our specials menu at the Willow recently. It is a roasted woodcock crown, confit and fried leg, with coffee cpelt calsify, turnip purée and puffed rice.

This dish came about as Phillip Turner, the owner of the group, had been shooting at Houghton Hall and came back with woodcocks. He gave some to me and asked for a special for the menu. I’m not going to lie, I’d never seen a woodcock before let alone cooked one. . . Took me a few minutes to get my head around it then off we went. Game has a very distinct flavour and it pairs with earthy ingredients very well, which made it super easy to choose what I was going to serve with this dish.

I wanted it to have more than just two flavours – game and earthy – which is where the coffee spelt came in, although this is naturally very bitter, very easily you can get a sweeter acidic taste from it with vodka. So I soaked the salsify in the vodka and coffee spelt, vacuum packed it and then blanched it in warm water for about 45 minutes. The turnip purée gave it that richness and earthiness again to balance the dish and the confit leg and puffed rice gave it the crispy element.

Woodcock is traditionally, and the only, game bird to be served with the head, beak and entrails all still in. Once cooked, the head and entrails are then removed and liquidised to go into the sauce, this makes the sauce tastier and richer.

For this recipe I understand woodcock is quite hard to get hold of, so I’ll give you a couple of other birds you could use – woodpigeon, partridge, pheasant – all will work incredibly well with this dish.

As always if you’d like to do this dish and send photos, please do. I’ve got some exciting things planned for this year at the Willow so hopefully I’ll be able to share these with you and see you there. I hope you all enjoy February and I’ll see you in March.

ROASTED WOODCOCK CROWN, CONFIT AND FRIED LEG, WITH COFFEE SPELT SALSIFY, TURNIP PURÉE AND PUFFED RICE

Ingredients:

One woodcock, skinned

100g salsify

Two turnips

50g coffee spelt

10g butter

100ml double cream

25ml vodka

10g chives, finely cut

100g oil

One garlic clove

One bunch of thyme

30g panko breadcrumbs

Method:

Start by prepping your woodcock. Traditionally, it is cooked and served with head and entrails in but I decided to take this off, so just take the bottom half of the bird off and remove the legs. Get the legs in the oil, with the garlic and thyme, and slowly confit down for about an hour and a half. Once the meat is nice and soft take it out and dry.

Peel and wash the salsify, add the coffee spelt to it and let soak for an hour or so, then add this to some boiling water and cook until slightly soft – you still want it to have some bite to it. Drain the liquid and wash the salsify.

Sweat your turnips down with a little butter and then add the cream, cook till soft and the cream has reduced by over half. Add a little salt and blend.

For the cooking of the woodcock. Get a pan of oil nice and hot, salt the bird then add it to the pan. Cook the whole crown on either side of the breast for two-to-three minutes getting lots of colour on them, then put in the oven for a further two-to-three minutes with more butter and some thyme. Let it rest and serve.

Jordan Ryan is head chef at The Weeping Willow, 39 Bury Road, Barrow Hill, Barrow, Bury St Edmunds IP29 5AB

Call 01284 771881