Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Bacon Barded Woodcock

I learned about bird hunting when I lived in Vermont during the early 1990's. I wanted to walk in the woods during the fall and needed to understand things like safety zones, wearing orange and what game was in season so I could be visible on hunting days.

My friend Randall asked one of her friends to take me along next time he went bird hunting but our schedules never seemed to mesh.  In the end, my neighbor Margot mentioned her brother would take me.  I'd known them both since childhood and knew her brother would make a great guide.

I learned a lot that first day and later married that man.  I also went on to take a hunter safety course taught brilliantly by our local vet who encouraged parents, especially mothers, to stick around for his entertaining lectures to learn about gun safety in their homes. 

Birds in our Pennsylvania woods are few and far between.  Grouse and woodcock are the most sought after but their preferred cover has become less abundant as more houses are built, edging out fields and forest.  The electric power company in our area will be yanking out some good bird cover nearby in the coming months to lay high voltage transmission lines, the most profitable activity for them despite questionable local need. 

It's been years since I walked gun in hand so I needed a quick primer to recall the basic safety moves before joining my husband for a walk in the woods last week.  Trying to remember where I'd filed my hunter safety card, one requisite for a hunting license, took slightly less time and thought.  We planned a short hunt with low expectations.  Just a little walk.  We were both frankly surprised to come home with a fairly large-sized woodcock.

Woodcock are classic game birds.  They are lean  and they are distinguished by their dark-meat breasts, actually darker than the meat on the petite thigh-leg section.  Wrapping the plucked and drawn bird in bacon cocoons the meat so that it cooks evenly without becoming dry. You can use this same method on other game birds or a boneless skinless chicken breast.

Bacon Barded Woodcock
Ingredients
For each woodcock:
1 strip bacon
1/2 apple, thinly sliced
1/4 lemon, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon roughly chopped parsley
salt and pepper
optional: two toothpicks

Method
  1. Preheat oven to 400˚F.  
  2. Place bird on a foil lined sheet.  
  3. Salt and pepper inside cavity and skin.  Stuff with apple, lemon and celery.  Wrap in bacon.  Use two toothpicks to hold folded legs in place.  
  4. Roast 15-20 minutes. Temperature of breast should read at least 140˚F.  
  5. Remove from oven, cover with foil and let rest a full 15 minutes before serving. 

Hunting is controversial in our country.  I had mixed feelings about it growing up; I could see it for another era, but not for mine.  But hunting in the time of large scale food factories changed my mind.  I was surprised to find that the counter-intuitive notion that most hunters are better caretakers of our environment than most is true.  Like the best conservationists, they recognize and mourn the loss of habitat and species and will take measures to preserve the environment.  Not because it means dinner on their plate, but because they have allowed themselves to become part of the ecosystem, no longer distant observers out for an eco-tourism walk in the woods.  They see the changes, season to season and year to year as the woods and streams bear road salt runoff, power line clearing with herbicides and tree-downing development.