Scotch Woodcock, if you haven’t come across it before, is a Victorian savoury of creamy eggs poured over toast spread with anchovy butter. Just as Welsh Rarebit or Rabbit contains no rabbit, Scotch Woodcock contains no wading birds, which will no doubt come as a relief to many. I’ve paired it here with asparagus for a dish which makes a good starter or light lunch or supper.
The first mention I can find of Scotch Woodcock is in Mrs Beeton, who uses a quarter of a pint of cream to three egg yolks. It’s more like a savoury custard than the scrambled eggs seen in many modern versions.
So if it’s too rich for your tastes, scramble whole (beaten, obvs) eggs in butter and stir through a tablespoon or two of cream at the end, but I do urge you to try the original at least once.
For the anchovy butter you can use Gentleman’s Relish or, as I did, the Italian anchovy paste that comes in a handy tube. Alternatively you can mash up anchovy fillets with butter – blot them if they’ve been preserved in oil or gently rinse and dry them if they’ve been preserved in salt. The ratio of anchovy to butter is a matter of taste – I’ve given my preferred quantities in the recipe below but feel free to tweak them.
I steamed my asparagus but you can roast or griddle it if you prefer.
If you dislike anchovies you might like to try this Catalan dish instead – revuelto de asparragos – a different take on scrambled eggs with asparagus. And if you have a glut (lucky you) just put asparagus in the search box for lots more recipes.
Scotch Woodcock with Asparagus
50g softened butter (use unsalted if you’re worried about the saltiness of the anchovies)
8g anchovy paste (or to taste)
Good white bread, toasted (I used rounds of baguette)
3 egg yolks
140ml double cream
Pinch of cayenne
Salt and pepper, to taste
3 to 6 asparagus spears per person, or more if you want to push the boat out
Snap the woody stem from the asparagus spears and trim to the same length. Any debris can be saved for a stock, especially good in an asparagus risotto. Wash and set aside.
Mash the anchovy paste or fillets into the butter. Cover and set aside. Toast the bread and keep it warm. Warm some plates at the same time.
Get the water simmering in your steamer for the asparagus. Add the asparagus – mine are fresh from the garden so only take a few minutes to cook. Keep an eye on them as you want them to be tender-crisp. Or I do, anyway. Cook them the way you like best, then drain and keep warm.
Beat the egg yolks with the cream, add a shake of cayenne and season to taste with salt and pepper, bearing in mind the anchovy butter is salty. Put a small saucepan on a low-medium heat, pour in the egg mixture and stir continuously until it has thickened. It will look like a cross between very creamy, smooth-ish scrambled eggs and (the closest I can get image-wise) a thick cheese sauce.
Spread the toast with the anchovy butter, top with the savoury custard, and lay some asparagus spears on top. Serve straight away. A green salad before or after makes a more substantial meal of it if you’re eating it as a main.
Glut of asparagus? I wish. I have to buy bundles of locally grown spears (admittedly very good) at £5.00 a throw. And I remember Gentleman’s Relish from my childhood, sold in those heavy white glass pots. The plastic replacement doesn’t cut it at all. This looks worth a go – I wonder where the name came from?
Ah, I’ve said it before, but of only we lived closer! We’re eating it with every meal at the moment, not that that’s any sort of hardship. A short season, to be savoured. And yes, I agree the plastic pots are no substitute for the ceramic ones. As far as the name goes, I haven’t done a huge amount of research but it appears to have been a deliberate companion piece to Welsh Rabbit. Lx
Had not heard of both the dish and ‘Gentleman’s Relish’ for decades methinks but have made and enjoyed the one and had the Relish in my pantry always way back ! These days would use less cream and, in my case, make my own anchovy paste as I simply love the flavour of those little seafarers . . . another idea to follow . . .
Glad you like it, Eha, thanks.
This is new to me. It sounds lovely and by no means too rich for me. I don’t actually think that’s possible…
It’s ridiculously good, Frank, thanks! Hope you give it a go. Lx