A friend of mine bragged about roasting a great chicken. He gently separated the skin from the flesh and rubbed a zesty cilantro pesto underneath and then roasted it, basting with oil mixed with more of the pesto. It sounded really good to me.
I don’t know about you, but although I love roast chicken, it’s a pain to do for guests. First, it’s got to be carved. And since it’s at its most visually appealing before carving, do I bring it to the table uncarved and then make a big mess carving it? Do I bring it to the table to show it off and then take it back to the kitchen and carve? Do I just carve it in the kitchen and be the only one to admire its pre-carved beauty?
And then, there’s the problem of parceling out the white and dark meat. Oh, it’s just too much trouble!
But, aha! There is a solution: Cornish game hens. They are usually just over a pound each. Many recipes call for a whole one per person, but I find that half is enough for nearly everyone. I do a few extra halves in case someone wants more. They come frozen and most supermarket butchers will saw them in half for you. If not, it’s easy enough to cut them through the breastbone and hack through the backbone yourself.
I did this for a group of friends who get together to cook semi-regularly. They all brought the appetizers and dessert and I made the dinner. The first course was a chilled soup; that’s for another time.
I was afraid the hens would need a little sauce, so I made a very spicy salsa to go with it, but as it turned out, the pan juices would have been enough. I accompanied it with steamed kale. I love kale because it doesn’t get limp like other greens, so it looks good on the plate. Just remove the large stems and cut into about 1” ribbons. I sautéed a little onion in olive oil and added about 1/2” of chicken stock in the pan. Bring to a simmer, add the kale, cover and steam for about 5 minutes.
For the starch, I have to confess that I used Zatarain’s Caribbean rice blend, from the supermarket. It has pineapple and coconut, for a touch of sweetness that was perfect with the hens.
I had a couple of hens left, and the next day, put them in a pot with the leftover pan juices and enough chicken stock to just cover. I simmered them a bit, then took them out and stripped the meat from the bones. With the leftover rice and kale added, it made one of the best soups I’ve ever had. Bonus time!
Caribbean Roast Cornish Hens
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp fresh ginger, minced
2 shallots, chopped
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and deveined, minced
1/2 cup parsley leaves
1 cup cilantro leaves
1 tsp fresh thyme leaves (or 1/2 tsp dried)
The grated zest and juice of one lime
1 tsp each ground cardamom and coriander
1/2 tsp ground allspice
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tsp salt
3 Cornish hens
In a food processor, blend together everything except the hens. Starting from the breast side, carefully slip your fingers under the skin over the breast and back to the thighs. Using about half the pesto, spread it under the skin. Place on a baking sheet and brush with some of the remaining pesto. Cover and refrigerate a couple of hours. Remove from the refrigerator about a half-hour before roasting.
Preheat the oven to 375F. Place the baking sheet, uncovered, in the top half of the oven. Roast, basting occasionally with pesto, for about 40 minutes, or until the hens are golden brown.
Remove the hens from the baking sheet and keep warm. Place the sheet over the stove burner and add 1/2 cup each water and white wine. Simmer, scraping up all the browned bits with a wooden spoon. Pour into a little pitcher or sauceboat and pass at the table. Serves 6.