Cornish hens for elegant dining
Diminutive bird makes a stylish presentation for dinners
Elegant dining: Cornish hens deliciously prove the adage: Good things do come in small packages. Savvy hosts can capitalize on that to easily create a special dinner. (Bill Hogan/Chicago Tribune)
One, the diminutive hen is so distinctive in size that many people might mistake them for game birds instead of ordinary chickens. Two, they look so darn posh preening on the plate, guests will feel rather spoiled when you serve them.
"They're an impressive kind of entertaining dish," said Nathalie Dupree, the Charleston, S.C.-based cookbook author and television cooking show host. "They look a little uptown even though they are just chicken."
Dupree is a big fan of the birds, also known as Rock Cornish game hens, Cornish chicken or Cornish game hens. They remind her of what chickens used to look like during her childhood before the age of supersized everything.
"I'd rather cook two Cornish hens than one humongous chicken," she said.
Size matters also to Robb Walsh, author of "Texas Eats: The New Lone Star Heritage Cookbook." The Houston writer developed a recipe using Cornish hens in place of German spring chickens because he misses having the variety of size options with poultry that French and German consumers enjoy.
"Cornish hens are a reminder of when we had a choice," he said.
Being so small, the birds cook fast. Dupree says she throws a bird in the oven and gives it a quick glaze of marmalade or pepper jelly right before the finish. She doesn't stuff the cavity, but she does like to put some seasoned ricotta cheese under the skin, a trick inspired by the late Richard Olney, a food writer, cook and editor.
A whole hen is too much of a serving for Dupree, but she doesn't want to risk the embarrassment of skimpy portions for guests. Her solution?
"I roast an extra hen for every few people," she writes in her latest book, "Mastering the Art of Southern Cooking" (Gibbs Smith, $45), co-authored with Cynthia Graubart, "and then cut the extras in quarters, available for second (or third!) helpings."
Cornish hens with honey glaze and bacon
Prep: 20 minutes
Cook: 1 hour
Note: A recipe from "Cooking Season by Season" (DK Publishing, $35).
4 Cornish hens
2 onions, coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons honey
12 slices bacon or pancetta
6 leeks, trimmed, chopped into 2-inch pieces
1 tablespoon olive oil
½ teaspoon salt
Freshly ground pepper
1. Heat oven to 400 degrees. Stuff the hens with onions. Brush all over with honey; cover the breast of each with 3 slices bacon or pancetta. Settle into a roasting pan.
2. Toss the leeks with the oil; add to the pan, tucking them in around the birds. Season with the salt and pepper to taste. Roast , 45-60 minutes. If the bacon begins to blacken, cover hens with foil.
3. Remove the birds from the pan; keep warm. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the leeks to a serving dish; keep warm. Tilt the pan to one side; skim away any fat. Pour a little hot water into the roasting pan; set over high heat. Heat to a boil, scraping up any crispy bits from the bottom of the pan; simmer for a few minutes. Pour the pan sauce into a gravy boat or pitcher; serve with the hens and the leeks.
Per serving: 623 calories, 39 g fat, 11 g saturated fat, 238 mg cholesterol, 22 g carbohydrates, 44 g protein, 616 mg sodium, 3 g fiber.
Grilled Cornish hens, German-style
Prep: 20 minutes
Cook: 30 minutes
Note: If you can get to a grill and have a hankering for holiday cooking outdoors, try this recipe from "Texas Eats: The New Lone Star Heritage Cookbook." (The Cornish hens can also be cooked in a grill pan or in the oven at 350 degrees.) Author Robb Walsh calls for a German riesling. Use if you have it, but a dry white wine will do. He also recommends serving this dish, based on a German recipe, with sweet-and-sour sauerkraut.
3 Cornish hens, split
1/2 teaspoon each: salt, pepper
1/4 cup coarse-grain German mustard
2 tablespoons German riesling
1 tablespoon honey
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
Pinch each: ground mace, ground cloves
1. Prepare a charcoal or gas grill for indirect-heat grilling over medium heat. Meanwhile, carefully remove as much skin as possible from the hens. Season hens with salt and pepper.
2. Combine the glaze ingredients in a bowl; mix thoroughly.
3. Cook the hen halves, bone side down, directly over the fire until lightly browned. Move them to the cooler part of the grill grate; cover. Cook, turning at midpoint, 20-25 minutes. Prick a thigh with a fork to check for doneness. If the juices run clear, move the hen halves back over the fire; brush them on both sides with the glaze. Finish them, turning often, until nicely browned on both sides.
Per serving: 460 calories, 31 g fat, 9 g saturated fat, 226 mg cholesterol, 3 g carbohydrates, 38 g protein, 461 mg sodium, 0 g fiber.