Despite the name, Scotch woodcock contains neither Scotch nor woodcock (although, in the case of the former, it’s ‘Scotch’ as in ‘Scottish’) but is a dish consisting of scrambled egg and anchovies, much in the same way that Welsh rarebit doesn’t have rabbit in it. It is not a creation of the Seventies but goes back to Victorian times – a recipe that’s a bit more complicated can be found in Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management – when it was served as an end-of-meal savoury. However, as my St Michael book notes, “in these less formal times it is more likely to be served as a snack”.
Now, we like anchovies in our house, but usually as a means of adding subtle flavouring rather than as the main attraction – and I certainly wouldn’t have thought of adding them to scrambled egg. Scotch woodcock, though, brings anchovies to the fore in a big way. Indeed, the recipe required a whole (small) jar of the things, more or less. The other ingredients are pretty much the ingredients for scrambled eggs on toast.
The dish was more labour-intensive that I’d thought – the anchovies had to be soaked in milk before half of them were mixed with most of the butter to make the anchovy butter. The book recommended using a mortal and pestle (which is which?) for this; I gave it a go and decided that the simpler expedient of mashing it with a fork worked better. Thus can I now claim to have made a basic version of Gentlemen’s Relish.
This was spread on some toast while I got on with scrambling the eggs. The St Michael book advises that milk should be mixed in with the eggs, which is something I disagree with – and here, I’ve got the word of Delia Smith to back me up (still, could’ve been worse; the recipe for Scotch woodcock in the Mrs Beeton book instructs you to separate the eggs and add a quarter of a pint of cream to the yolks).
Once scrambled, the eggs went atop the anchovy-buttered toast and then the final part could begin. The remaining anchovies were sliced lengthways so that they could be arranged in a lattice pattern on top of the scrambled eggs.
The result was, quite frankly, overpowering. The anchovies are in the butter and on top of the eggs, and the strong flavour dominates this dish. That’s too much for me; with anchovies, the approach really should be something along the lines of ‘less is more’.
I’ll just stick to good old scrambled eggs in future, I think.