Jan 14, 2016

Good Things Come In Small Packages

Chickens don't need to be big in order to be good, at least that's what Connecticut poultry farmer Jacques Makowsky and his wife Therese believed in the 1950's when they began cross-breeding White Cornish game cocks with Plymouth Rock hens in an attempt to create a small, single serving, gourmet chicken similar to the less available quail or squab, but with all-white meat. The result was a plump little bird that had a distinct gamy flavor because they were raised on a high protein diet that included such native Connecticut produce as cranberries, acorns, 
and other nuts.

Since then, people have found the smaller cornish game hen to be a nice change from its larger 4 pound cousin, the chicken. 

Today, millions of Cornish Game Hens are shipped all over the country, including Hawaii. Most of these hens are the White Laced Red Bantam Cornish Game Hen pictured above. It weighs only 1 1/2 to 2 pounds, which is the perfect size for two servings, unless your guests are really hungry. Add a couple of my side dishes and you've made a simple dinner really special.  

If you are going to prepare a Cornice Game Hen, then check out this website which shows you how to butterfly poultry known as "Spatchcocking". It's really very simple!

Here are a few of my favorite Cornish Game Hen recipes:

Garlic & Rosemary Roasted Cornish Game Hens
2 cornish game hens (thawed, rinsed and patted dry)
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 lemon, cut in half
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
3 tablespoons olive oil
12 cloves garlic, peeled
1/3 cup white wine
1/3 cup low-sodium chicken broth
1 teaspoon water and 1 teaspoon cornstarch
4 sprigs fresh rosemary, for garnish

Preheat oven to 450˚F.

Rub hens with 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Lightly season hens with salt and pepper. Place 1 lemon wedge and 1 sprig rosemary in cavity of each hen. Arrange in a large, heavy roasting pan, and arrange garlic cloves around hens. Roast in preheated oven for 25 minutes.

Reduce oven temperature to 350˚F. In a mixing bowl, whisk together wine, chicken broth, and remaining 2 tablespoons of oil; pour over hens. Continue roasting about 25 minutes longer, or until hens are golden brown and juices run clear, or the thermometer registers 165°F in the thigh. Baste the hens with pan juices every 10 minutes.

Transfer hens to a platter, pouring any cavity juices into the roasting pan. Tent hens with aluminum foil to keep warm. In a medium saucepan, combine cornstarch with water and add to the pan juices and garlic cloves. Boil and stir until liquids thicken to a sauce consistency, about 6 minutes. Cut hens in half lengthwise and arrange on plates. Spoon sauce and garlic around hens. Garnish with rosemary sprigs, and serve with Rosemary Mashed Potatoes and Pesto Carrots. Makes 4 servings.

Pineapple-Ginger Glazed Cornish Game Hens
2 cornish game hens, 1-1/2 pounds each, (thawed, rinsed and patted dry)
4 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 cup pineapple preserves
2 teaspoons honey
2 teaspoons soy sauce
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon cornstarch

Set a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 450°F. With a sharp knife or poultry shears, remove the backbones from the hens and slice through the breastbone, cutting the hens in half. Brush the skin of the hens with 2 teaspoons of the sesame oil and set them, skin side up, on a wire rack set in a rimmed baking sheet. Sprinkle the skin with 1/2 teaspoon salt and several grinds of pepper. Roast until the hens are almost cooked through (an instant-read thermometer inserted in the thickest part of the thigh should register 160°F), about 40 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat the remaining 2 teaspoons sesame oil in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add the ginger and garlic and cook, stirring often, until soft and fragrant, 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in the preserves, honey, soy sauce, and lemon juice; bring to a boil and cook, stirring occasionally, until the mixture has thickened slightly, 4 to 5 minutes. Dissolve the cornstarch in 1 teaspoon water, add to the saucepan, and cook until the mixture thickens, another 1 minute.

Brush the hens with the pineapple-ginger glaze and continue to roast until the glaze has browned in spots and the thermometer registers 165°F in the thigh, another 5 to 7 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve immediately. Makes 4 servings.

Cornish Game Hens Piccata
1 cornish game hen, (thawed, rinsed and patted dry, then butterflied and then cut in half)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup all-purpose flour, for dredging
4 tablespoons butter, room temperature, divided
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/3 cup fresh lemon or lime juice
1/4 cup dry white wine or chicken stock
1/4 cup brined capers
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped

Season cornish game hen halves with salt and pepper. Dredge them in flour and shake off excess.

In a large skillet over medium high heat, melt 2 tablespoons of butter with 3 tablespoons olive oil. When butter and oil start to sizzle, add the cornish game hen halves and cook for 3 or 4 minutes per side, turning them when they are browned. Remove and transfer to a plate.

Into the same pan add the lemon juice, wine or stock and capers. Return to stove and bring to boil, scraping up brown bits from the pan for extra flavor. Check for seasoning. Return the cornish game hen halves to the pan and simmer for 5 minutes, spooning sauce over them. Remove game hen halves to platter. Add remaining 2 tablespoons butter to sauce and whisk vigorously. Pour sauce over game hens and garnish with parsley. Serve with Jasmine rice and steamed asparagus. Makes 2 servings.

Roasted Cornish Game Hens 
with Microwave Ginger Teriyaki Sauce
Ingredients for the game hens:
2 cornish game hens, about 1 1/2 pounds each, (thawed, rinsed and patted dry)
4 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Ingredients for the Microwave Teriyaki Sauce
2 teaspoons cornstarch with 2 teaspoons of water
1/2 cup Mae Ploy sweet chili sauce
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/8 cup red wine
1/2 teaspoon powdered ginger
1 tablespoon salad oil

2 teaspoon sesame seeds, toasted for garnish

Set a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 450°F. With a sharp knife or poultry shears, remove the backbones from the hens and slice through the breastbone, cutting the hens in half. Brush the skin of the hens with 2 teaspoons of the sesame oil and set them, skin side up, on a wire rack set in a rimmed baking sheet. Sprinkle the skin with 1/2 teaspoon salt and several grinds of pepper. Roast until the hens are almost cooked through (an instant-read thermometer inserted in the thickest part of the thigh should register 165°F), about 40 minutes.

Meanwhile, to make the Teriyaki sauce, dissolve the cornstarch in 2 teaspoons water in a microwave-safe dish and mix, then combine all of the other sauce ingredients in the same dish. Cover with a piece of plastic wrap and poke holes in the plastic with a fork. Cook on HIGH (1200W) for 1 1/2 minutes. Take the sauce out of the microwave and stir a few minutes more, until it thickens.

When the Hens are roasted, brush sauce over each half and continue cooking, about 8 more minutes, being careful not to burn the sauce. Remove from oven and sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds. Serve with Gingered Jasmine Rice and Bok Choy with Oyster Sauce. Makes 4 servings.

Roasted Cornish Game Hens with Panko
2 cornish game hens, cut in half, removing the backbone, then rinse & pat dry
1/4 cup butter, melted
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup Country Dijon mustard
1/2 cup Panko (Japanese bread crumbs)
3 tablespoons Parmesan cheese, shredded
1 tablespoon fresh parsley, chopped

Mix melted butter, garlic and mustard. Set aside. Mix Panko bread crumbs, Parmesan cheese, and parsley. Set aside.

Coat cornish game hen halves in mustard sauce on both sides with a basting brush; sprinkle the tops only in crumb mixture to coat. Lay coated game hen halves in foil lined baking pan, crumb mixture side up, so they are not touching each other.

Bake at 475°F for 25 minutes, or until the cornish game hen reaches 170˚F when tested with a meat thermometer. Serve with Pan Roasted Brussel Sprouts and Fresh Corn Pudding.

Makes 4 servings.

Grilled Cornish Game Hens
2 cornish game hens, thawed, rinsed and patted dry, then butterflied and cut in half
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup Pinot Grigio or white wine of your choice
1/4 cup olive oil
1 shallot, minced
2 tablespoons garlic, minced
1 tablespoon fresh oregano, chopped
1 tablespoon fresh thyme, chopped

Place game hen halves in large baking dish (9” x 13”). Season both sides with salt and pepper to taste.

Place all remaining ingredients in a blender or food processor to blend a marinade.

Rub marinade over game hens and cover with plastic wrap. Place in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours or up to overnight.

Removed from refrigerator 30 minutes before grilling. Shake or wipe off excess marinade before grilling.

Prepare grill with direct and indirect heat zones. Temperature should reach 350-400°F.

Place game hens on the direct heat side and sear for 5 minutes on each side until skin is a nice crisp golden brown.

Move the game hens to the indirect side of the grill and continue cooking another 20-25 minutes until the internal temperature has reached 165°F.

Remove game hens from grill and let rest 5- 10 minutes before serving.

Serve with Brown Sugar Baked Sweet Potatoes and Spicy Cucumber Salad with Garlic. Makes 4 servings.

Note: You can watch Martha Stewart grill a whole cornish game hen by clicking here and how she deals with prepping the hen for the grill called "spatchcocking". It's a short video and worth watching.

Smoked Cornish Game Hens
Smoking game hens is just another way to enjoy this little chicken, but first you need to brine the bird in a wet solution, refrigerated overnight. Some people don't think brining is necessary, but to me, brining not only brings flavor to the table, but it also helps to keep the bird juicy. There are many recipes for brining depending on the cook's taste. Click here for the basics of brining poultry.

Cameron Stovetop Smoker
Click on photo to view larger
After brining, I use a stovetop smoker called a Cameron Smoker Cooker, which you can buy online from Amazon.com for about $54.99. I've had this wonderful smoker for many years, and it still works great. It does a good job of infusing small amounts of food with smoky flavor quickly, without having to fire up the outdoor grill, and it doesn't smoke up the kitchen. You can smoke other meats, like salmon using this same kitchen smoker. You can get my salmon recipe here. For a review of this little indoor smoker click here. Naturally, you can also cook the game hens on an outdoor grill or in an outdoor smoker. If you want to make your own smoker out of a wok, you might like this website. Naturally, the important thing is that the end result is delicious!

Brine Ingredients for cornish game hens:
3 cups non-clorinated water (bottled water)
1 cup apple juice
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup soy sauce
1 1/2" fresh ginger, sliced into rounds (no need to peel it)
1/4 onion, chopped
2 sprigs fresh rosemary, chopped
3 cloves garlic, crushed

2 cornish game hens, thawed, rinsed and patted dry
2 tablespoons olive oil
Applewood or hickory chips

Combine the brine ingredients in a pot and bring to a boil. Remove the brine from the heat and chill down to 40˚F. (to do this quickly, surround the pot with ice in a larger pot or your sink).

Prepare the 2 game hens by cutting along each side of the backbone with a clean pair of kitchen shears, or sharp knife, removing it from the carcass. Push down on the breast to flatten it, then cut along either side of the breastbone. You should now have 4 servings. At this point you can remove the rib bones with a sharp knife, but it's not necessary.

Place the 4 hen halves in two zip-lock freezer bags, or one if you can make them fit. Add the cooled brine and press bags to remove excess air and seal. Put in the refrigerator for 2 hours, no longer or it might be too salty. Be sure and turn the brine bag after one hour. Remove the birds from the brine and pat dry with paper towels. If you are not ready to cook at the end of the brining time, remove the hens from the brine, pat dry with paper towels, cover with plastic wrap, then refrigerate them. When you are ready to smoke the birds, coat them with olive oil to help keep them from drying out.

The cooking process is two-fold. First we smoke the brined birds in a Cameron Smoker Cooker, on the stovetop, using 1 1/2 cups of applewood chips, on low heat for 25 minutes after it starts to smoke. Then we finish cooking them in the oven at 375˚F for another 20 minutes. The applewood wood chips give the game hens a wonderful smoky applewood flavor on top of the flavor of the brine. It's a winner.

Serve the game hens with wild rice topped with crimini mushrooms sautéed in butter (which can be made the day before), and a nice salad. Makes 4 servings.

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