Did You Know Cornish Game Hens Are Young Chickens?
My wife found this recipe in this past weekend’s Sunday’s New York Times Eating & Drinking section and decided we should give it a try. The recipe is called Grilled BBQ Cornish Game Hen, but I’m not sure where the BBQ part of the recipe is (and in our case we didn’t even get the grilling right because we ran out of propane halfway through the cooking process).
No problem, like all home cooks, we were able to adapt and finish the game hens in the oven until they reached the desired internal temperature of 170° F, and then 175°F after they’ve rested for 5 minutes. The recipe in the NY Times says to cook “until a meat thermometer inserted into breast meat reads 160 degrees”—but that’s a little rare for my tastes.
Cornish Game Hens
For years and years I thought Cornish game hens were a unique breed of birds not related to chickens. I quickly learned that Cornish game hens are really just young chickens! Instead of being raised 42 days to become a full grown chicken, they are raised 28 to 32 days and stand about half the size of a typical chicken.
Cornish Game Hens also weigh a lot less than chickens today; makes sense because of their size: a typical Rock Cornish hen weighs between 1.25 to 2.5 pounds compared to a supermarket chicken that weighs between 5 to 7 pounds.
Cooking With Kids
My daughter helped prepare this recipe by making the vegetable vinaigrette (which is a bigger job than you might think) and sautéing the grapes for the garnish. The vinaigrette calls for Verjus, the “tart juice of unripe wine grapes.” I couldn’t believe I had a bottle of Verjus in my pantry but unfortunately it had expired about 7 years ago. Instead, we substituted Champaign vinegar for the Verjus.
Grilled or Roasted Cornish Game Hens
3 - 1 ¼ to 1 ¾ pound Cornish game hens
6 shallots, slice thinly
6 gloves garlic, minced
1 bunch fresh parsley, stemmed
1-teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional in my opinion)
For the vinaigrette
1 large red bell pepper, diced finely
1 medium English cucumber, finely diced (these are the long skinny cucumbers)
1 bunch of scallions, thinly sliced
3 tablespoons fresh ginger, minced
2 cups Champagne vinegar
2 teaspoons soy sauce
3 tablespoons honey
1-teaspoon salt ¼ cup walnut oil
For the Garnish
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 bunch red grapes
How To Prepare At Home
Prep the Cornish Game Hens
You need to remove the backbone from the hens and the easiest way to do this is with kitchen shears. Once the backbones are removed, lay them flat with the skin side up.
Mix the shallots, garlic, parsley and red pepper flakes (optional) in a small bowl. Use your fingers to loosen the skin from the meat, then tuck the shallot/garlic mixture under the skin.
Prepare the Vinaigrette
Mix all the ingredients in a small bowl. You can make this ahead of time and let the flavors meld together. If you refrigerate the vinaigrette, be sure to remove it from the fridge at least 15 minutes before planning to use it.
Prepare the Garnish
Heat a medium sized skillet over medium-high heat, add oil, and grapes. Sauté grapes for 5 minutes until their skin starts to blister. Shake the pan for even cooking.
Grill/Roast the Cornish Game Hens
I started out by grilling the game hens, but ran out of propane and didn’t want to take the time to start a charcoal fire. So, I preheated the oven to 350°F and finished the hens there.
If you do grill the hens, I would use the 2 - Zone method where I start the birds on a hot part of the grill and finish on a cooler area of the grill with the lid down. Basically, you are searing the hens on the high heat and alternately roasting them on cooler part of the grill.
Begin by laying the hens skin-side-down on the hot part of the grill and cook for 2 minutes. Turn the game hens 90 degrees and cook for another 2 minutes to create the attractive hash marks we all love so much.
Turn the hens over but place them on the cooler part of the grill set to low. Cover and cook until a meat thermometer reads 170°F. Depending on your grill and the size of the birds, this should take about 20 minutes.
Remove the Cornish game hens and set aside to rest for 5 to 10 minutes. I like to cover them with aluminum foil with some holes poked through.
Spoon a generous amount of the vinaigrette onto a plate. The original recipe says to serve one whole game hen per person, but I cut mine in half for both the kids and the adults and found it to be plenty—I would rather go back for more than leave half a hen on the plate.
Top each hen with a few of the grapes and serve with whatever sides you’ve decided. We serve this dish with Trader Joe’s Harvest Grains Blend made up of Israeli couscous, orzo, baby garbanzo beans and red quinoa.
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