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Are you bored with chicken? It was my boredom with roasting chickens and an excellent episode of “Good Eats” that got me thinking about making some Cornish game hens. Are you asking yourself, what is a Cornish game hen? Well, you’re in luck.
A Cornish game hen is not Cornish, nor is it game. It is a hen, however. As with many things that we consume, the name “Cornish game hen” is really a marketing gimmick created to make it sound more exotic. A Cornish game hen is nothing more than a small chicken that has been bred to be single-serving and have most of its edible muscle resemble white meat. They are harvested after about 40 days, rather than the 52 for mature “full-sized” roasting chickens. The were originally bred in the late 1950’s (in Connecticut, not Cornwall) and were designed to be single-serving chickens. You will almost always find them sold whole and unboned, and that’s quite alright. We are going to cook our hens flat and relatively fast, and to do that we’re going to have to (the spam bots are really gonna love this one) spatchcock them.
I hope you remember my “how to quarter a duck” post as the technique will come in quite handy in this application. To spatchcock a game hen, simply repeat the first process in the quartering a duck post- that is, remove the backbone. If you’ve ever done this on a duck, you will notice how much easier it is when working with the significantly smaller game hen. Once you’ve removed the backbone, your bird should look like this:
Another view of the backbone removed:
Now, the spatchcocking part: The term to spatchcock simply means to remove the breast or keel bone from poultry. Once you have removed the backbone, you want to open the cavity. In the middle, you will find the keel bone. Getting this out can be a bit of a pain, so you are going to have to be patient. Most of the “bone” is really just a strip of cartilage that runs from the tail to the neck. The only part of concern is the last inch or so of this “bone” that is closest to the tail. Take a pairing knife (you are going to want the control) and make a very thin incision around the bone. Around the last inch or so, you are going to notice a change in the keel bone. For this last bit near the tail, you are going to need to go a little deeper with the tip of your pairing knife. Once you’ve moved the knife around the bottom of the keel bone closest to the tail, set the knife down and grab the end with your fingers. Jiggle the keel bone (nearest the tail) a bit and the anchor-shaped end will start to emerge. Work slowly and remove the whole bone and cartilage with your fingers. The first time you try this, it’s going to take you some time. Once you get the hang of it, you’ll be able to do four birds in less than 10 minutes.
In this preparation we are following Alton Browns’ recipe faithfully. That recipe can be found here
First, start off by turning your oven on the 500 degrees and placing your kitchen brick in the oven. (Or any heavy, food and heat-safe weight wrapped in tin-foil.)
The kitchen bricks we use at imafoodblog have gone through a rigorous sanitation procedure- but that’s another story for another time.
Now, take a large cast-iron skillet and cook up 4 rashers of your (preferably) homemade bacon
Set the bacon aside and reserve the fat in the pan.
Next take your pearl onions- as you can see from this picture I’m using a variety of colors for plating purposes, but they all taste mostly the same. The onions are definitely a bit of a pain to deal with, but trust me- they turn into one of the best parts of this meal.
We’re going to caramelize these in the oven with our hens, but first we’ve got to peel each and every one of them.
The best way to peel the onions is to cut an “X” into the bottom of each, as Nick is expertly doing in the picture below. Once the onions are all scored, place the onions in a small pot of boiling water and blanch for 30 seconds. Transfer the now-blanched onions to an ice-bath to stop the cooking. Once the onions are (relatively) cool, you should be able to squeeze the onions right out of their skin.
Next, take your spatchcocked hen and lay in out the pan with the bacon grease like this:
Now, take the brick (that has been in the 500 degree oven) and place it over the hen. Sprinkle the pearl onions in the gaps. This whole contraption goes in the 500 degree oven.
You can see my hens cooking nicely in the oven. Since there are three of us, it takes two pans to get the job done.
When the hens reach an internal temperature of ~160 degrees (this will take around 15 minutes, but I’d highly suggest using a probe thermometer for your first couple of attempts) the birds can be removed from the pans and set aside to rest for ten minutes. I’d suggest transferring the pan to the stovetop and continuing to caramelize the onions while the hens rest. (You won’t need any burner heat… the 500 degree oven will keep this cast iron pan hot for an hour.)
Gently stir the onions around and add some basil and garlic olive oil if they seem dry.
The finished onions will look something like this:
Now, it’s time to plate. For this meal, there’s really nothing fancy necessary. Plop the bird down on the plate and cover with the reserved bacon (that you’ve smashed into bacon bits) and onions. Extra onions for the corner of the plate.
If the folks in your house like them as much as we do, then it will look like a chupacabra was in your dining room!
This meal really is fantastic. The caramelized pearl onions and bacon bits add that final kick of flavor that the hens need. Also, if it’s summertime and you want to get out of the kitchen, you can cook the exact same meal on the grill- just cook the birds the same way as you would in the oven and caramelize the onions separately. The grill adds another wonderful dimension.