A couple of days ago I was tossed a gauntlet by the immeasurable Mr Affer. At the end of a charming article about the delights of Rookeries, he invited me to submit a recipe for cooking the rooks.
Rooks have long been recognised as a free food source, particularly in the West Country and South Wales. They are quite hard to acquire these days as most people, even in the countryside, are such hypocritical pansies when it comes to food. Many people are more than happy to munch on a water injected, formerly tormented pig, but will baulk at a bit of low fat game that has had a happy life. Bah.
The easiest way to get your hands on some young and tender rooks is to seek out a farmer or gamekeeper who is about to cull them and ask them to save you a few. They will probably despatch them with a shotgun though, which means you have to watch out for lead shot. A .22 rifle is a better option. The only bit of a rook worth eating is the breast, so you don’t really want it full of shot.
The other, more dangerous, way is to climb a rookery. I would not advise doing this yourself unless you are an experienced climber, but if you are, then make sure you take a small bag up with you. The young rooks can be popped into the bag ready to be bopped swiftly on the head when you get down.
Sadly, this is not the right time of year to go a-rooking, as the young rooks, or ‘branchers’, are not ready until about the second week in May. In Victorian times it was considered a perfectly suitable activity for young ladies and boys and they would gather on 12th May for a day’s gentle sport.
Therefore, as it is only mid April, I was unable to obtain any rook breasts. The recipe below calls for half rook, half pigeon but I had to make do with all pigeon. It was so good I could weep.
I served it with parsnip puree and would have chosen to serve peas, but I had run out.
WILD THANG PIE – serves 6
1 x large saucepan
1 x 10” pie dish
1 x rolling pin
1 x pastry brush
1 x small dish for the egg
1 x bowl for the flour
1 x chopping board & sharp knife
1 packet of shortcrust pastry (or 1lb/500g of your own recipe)
8 wood pigeon breasts (or 4 rook and 4 pigeon) – chopped into biggish chunks
2oz / 60g plain flour
3 tablespoons oil or dripping
1 medium onion – roughly chopped
1lb / 480g wild mushrooms – sliced into chunks
4floz / 125ml dry white wine
½ pint / 300ml good strong stock
1 x bouquet garni
1 egg – beaten
Pre-heat the oven to 190/375/5
Grease and flour the pie dish
Roll out the pastry and line the dish. Roll out the remains ready for the lid
Put the flour into a bowl, seasoned with salt and pepper and coat the rook and pigeon in it
Heat the oil or dripping in a large sauce pan and briefly sauté the onion
Add the mushrooms and cook for 1 minute, keeping them moving
Add the meat and flour to the pan, cook briefly until just browning
Add the wine and stir it around quickly
Then gradually add the stock, stirring briskly all the time, until it starts to thicken.
Add the bouquet garni and remove from the heat
Brush the edge of the pastry with the beaten egg
Pour the meat mixture into the dish
Place the remaining pastry on top, crimp the edges to seal and make 3 slits in the lid
Brush the top with egg and place in the oven for about 45 minutes or until golden brown.