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Monday, December 26, 2011

Roasted Cornish Hens

I wanted to make something a little bit special for our Christmas Eve meal that would really stand out. Cornish hens made the cut because they are so darned cute and tasty, and make a really elegant presentation.  But what I did different with these little gals was to brine them first for several hours and to make a citrus and savory stuffing for them to flavor them from the inside out.  I'll go into details about these in a bit.

This is definitely a meal that you need to plan ahead for in terms of time and ingredients; but one that well certainly stand out in the memory of your dinner guests as being special. And even though there are quite a few steps to take, absolutely none of them are technically difficult. 
   
Here is a video tutorial:
 
Ingredients for the Brine: 
  • 10 - 12 cups water 
  • 1/2 cup sea salt
  • 1/4 cup honey 
  • 1/2 cup maple syrup 
  • 1 cup brown sugar 
  • 1 cup apple juice 
  • 2 large bay leaves
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced 
  • 1 tbsp whole black peppercorns 
  • 2 large lemons
 Ingredients for the Hens:
     Seasoning rub -
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons lemon-pepper
  • 1 tablespoon poultry seasoning 
     Stuffing for cavity -
  • sage
  • 2 stalks celery, large dice
  • 1 onion, large dice
  • 1 apple, large dice
  • 1 tangerine, large dice
      For the hen itself -
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 Cornish game hens, about 1 1/2 pounds each, rinsed and dried thoroughly
  • butter  
  • fresh thyme
  • *optional - apricot jelly
Step-by-Step:
Prepare the Brine -
Bring the brine ingredients to a boil. It should taste fairly salty (not like something you would necessarily want to drink, but also somewhat sweet).
10 - 12 c water, 1/2 c salt, 1/4 c honey, 1 Tbsp peppercorns, 2 lg bay leaves, 2 lg lemons
Allow to cool to room temperature.  I, of course, was being impatient, so I poured the brine into a large, cold, metal bowl which I arranged in an ice bath. 
I added the brine to an ice bath to speed the cooling
1 cup apple juice
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup maple syrup
The finished brine.  Pretty, huh?

Prep the Hens -
Rinse the hens thoroughly both inside and out.  
 
Place hens in brine, cover and refrigerate for at least six hours. Remove the birds from the brine and rinse with cold water. Pat dry with paper towels.
Rub olive oil all over the hens and season each with the salt mixture.
Stuff the bird -
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
Loosely stuff the cavities of each hen with the cavity stuffing.
Cavity stuffing -  fresh sage + 2 stalks celery + 1 apple + 1 tangerine

Place the hens on a baking sheet pan or roasting pan with plenty of space between them. You may need to use 2 pans if making more than two hens. 
Season them up -
Make a compound butter with about cool but softened butter and fresh thyme leaves.  
 
Gently separate the skin from the meat of the hens and massage the compound butter into the meat inside this pocket. 
Get as far as you can being careful not to tear the skin.  This will self baste the meat as the hens roast.
Finally, season the outside of the meat with the salt rub blend.

For the salt rub: In a small mixing bowl, stir together salt, lemon pepper, and poultry seasoning.
1 Tbsp salt + 2 Tbsp lemon pepper + 1 Tbsp poultry seasoning
Roast -
Roast the hens in the preheated oven for about 1 hour or until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh registers 165 degrees F and the juices run clear. 
The veggies and herbs stuffed in the cavities of the hens will impart flavor to the meat as it cooks. Be sure not to crowd the hens on the baking sheets or else the skin won't crisp up properly and they will take much longer to cook. 
You can actually see the herbs showing through from under the skin of the hens. 
We drizzled a little melted butter on them for the last 5 minutes or so.  Golden brown and delicious!  * This is also where you could brush on a layer of that apricot jelly.  This would give you a thin sheen of sweetness to balance out all of these salts/herbs.
Remove the hens from the oven, loosely tent with foil and let rest 10 minutes before carving or serving.  This gives you time to grab a nice glass of wine and open a gift or two... like this cute little apron! :-)

 Now go share with someone you love!

Order the Menu Musings Cookbook!

 Method: 

Prepare the Brine -
Bring the brine ingredients to a boil. It should taste fairly salty (not like something you would necessarily want to drink, but also somewhat sweet).  Allow to cool to room temperature. I, of course, was being impatient, so I poured the brine into a large, cold, metal bowl which I arranged in an ice bath.

Prep the Hens -  Rinse the hens thoroughly both inside and out.  Place hens in brine, cover and refrigerate for at least six hours. Remove the birds from the brine and rinse with cold water. Pat dry with paper towels.    Rub olive oil all over the hens and season each with the salt mixture.

Stuff the bird -   Loosely stuff the cavities of each hen with the cavity stuffing.  Place the hens on a baking sheet pan or roasting pan with plenty of space between them. You may need to use 2 pans if making more than two hens.

Season them up -  Make a compound butter with about cool but softened butter and fresh thyme leaves.  Gently separate the skin from the meat of the hens and massage the compound butter into the meat inside this pocket.   Get as far as you can being careful not to tear the skin. This will self baste the meat as the hens roast.  Finally, season the outside of the meat with the salt rub blend.  The veggies and herbs stuffed in the cavities of the hens will impart flavor to the meat as it cooks. Be sure not to crowd the hens on the baking sheets or else the skin won't crisp up properly and they will take much longer to cook.    

For the salt rub: In a small mixing bowl, stir together salt, lemon pepper, and poultry seasoning.

Roast -   I cooked them on about 375 degrees.  You can change this - all that matters is the final temp.  Roast the hens in the preheated oven for about 1 hour or until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh registers 165 degrees F and the juices run clear.   Drizzle a little melted butter on them for the last 5 minutes or so. Golden brown and delicious! * This is also where you could brush on a layer of that apricot jelly. This would give you a thin sheen of sweetness to balance out all of these salts/herbs.  Remove the hens from the oven, loosely tent with foil and let rest 10 minutes before carving or serving.

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