Cornish game hens

Game hens:  a winter win

Originally appeared in the January 6, 2011 edition of the Southside Times.

The winter holidays are intimately related with traditions (of both the personal and pervasive varieties), as well as attention to details which help sustain those beloved customs.  Food, of course, plays a critical role in this preservation.  But if you’re looking to break tradition, or just add a bit of nuance, you could do worse than a classic preparation of Cornish game hens.  Keep reading here:Rock Cornish game hens are chickens of about five- to six-weeks old.  The meat is tender, with a flavor that’s both distinct and versatile.  Because of their size, you should, as with this recipe, employ a roasting technique, but the birds can also be split, flattened, and cooked by either broiling (heat from above) or grilling (heat from below).  Trussing with twine hugs the bird’s legs and wings close to its body, making for a compact shape which promotes even-cooking; this not only helps retain succulent juices but will yield an aesthetically-pleasing product.

The diminutive game hens are an ideal meal for two, or—by adding a few extra birds to the oven—a memorable presentation for intimate entertaining.

Roasted Cornish game hen with cherry glaze

Serves 2 (as a split)

  • 1 Cornish game hen
  • To taste, kosher salt and cracked black pepper
  • 2 – 4 tablespoons softened butter
  • ½ orange, cut in two
  • To taste, sprigs of fresh tarragon
  • To taste, sprigs of fresh marjoram
  • To taste, sprigs of fresh parsley
  • 2 cups rough chop onions, carrots, celery

Cherry glaze

  • 8 ounces fresh cherries, pitted and cut in half
  • 4 fluid ounces port wine
  • ½ orange
  • 8 fluid ounces simple syrup (4 ounces sugar dissolved in 4 ounces of warm water)
  • 8 fluid ounces chicken stock

1.  Preheat oven to 450ºF, and center one of the racks.  Rinse inside of bird’s cavity and season with salt and pepper; dab-dry skin with paper towels.  Place oranges and fresh herbs inside bird.  Truss bird legs and wings close to the body; use softened butter to spread over skin, and then melt the rest for basting.  Season skin with salt and pepper.  Place rough-chop vegetables in a roasting pan, and place bird on top.  Place in 450ºF oven for 15 minutes (basting with melted butter in the initial stages), then lower temperature to 400 ºF for another 30 minutes or until juices run clear (or à point).

2.  Meanwhile, prepare glaze by combing cherries and port in a saucepan.  Bring to a boil, then reduce until almost dry (or “au sec”).  Zest ½ an orange and squeeze juice; add in zest, juice, simple syrup and stock to the cherry-port mix and reduce to a thin glaze.

3.  Remove game hen, cover with aluminum foil, and allow to rest for several minutes (this will give the juices a chance to redistribute) before serving.

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