Roast Cornish Game Hens à la Marian
A turkey’s a lot of pressure in the kitchen, and it won’t fit in my fridge or freezer — so a few years ago, I started making Cornish game hens on holidays instead! Larger than quail and smaller than chickens, game hens are usually found in the frozen section of a US grocery store for about $5 each (this whole meal can price out at under $15 if you have the oil, butter, and seasonings). Game hens taste AMAZING, and they’re harder to mess up than a larger bird.
(Besides, nothing makes you feel like royalty so much as ripping off an entire bird thigh with your bare hands and tearing into it.)
It’s easy to make this recipe gluten-free, dairy-free, onion-free, or whatever your diners demand. And you can use any stuffing and seasonings and root vegetables you like; this guide includes the ones I chose (and includes dairy and onions).
- 2 Cornish game hens (thawed)
- 1/2 Sweet onion (or more)
- 2 cups Mini Potatoes
- 1 cup Yams, sweet potatoes, carrots, and/or parsnips (chopped into chunks)
- 6 cloves Garlic (or more)
- 1 Tbsp Brown sugar
- Olive Oil
- Salt and Pepper
- Seasonings (listed below)
- 1.5 cups Wild rice (cooked)
- .25 cups Onion (minced, can be taken from onion listed above)
- .25 cups Dried cranberries or cherries
- .5 cups Pecans, almonds, or cashews (chopped or slivered)
- 3 Tbsp Honey
- 2 Lemon wedges (seeds removed) or a splash of lemon juice
- 2 pats Cold butter
- Seasonings (listed below)
- Sea salt
- Black pepper
- Curry powder
- Lemon zest
- Preheat oven to 425F. Set out two large bowls, one for root veggies, one for stuffing, and a Dutch oven or cast iron casserole dish (or a deep roasting pan). Cook wild rice.
- Wash and chop the potatoes, yams, and carrots (or other roots) into large hearty chunks and combine in a bowl. Peel garlic and add all but 1 large clove to the roots.
- Chop two thick round slices from the center of your onion and set aside — these will become onion platters for your game hens to nest upon, helping to keep them level. The remaining onion can be minced for stuffing and added in large chunks to the root veggies.
- Coat the vegetables thoroughly in olive oil and seasoning mix, plus a little squeeze of lemon juice and/or lemon zest. Transfer them to the roasting dish — it’s fine if they pile up on top of one another. (If you prefer a fried-skin crispness to your veggies, put them around the edges rather than under the birds; if you like your veggies soaked through with bird juice and effectively pre-gravied, you’ll want to put the birds on top.)
- Press or mince your remaining garlic clove. In the oiled bowl that used to hold the veggies, prepare the oil you’ll use to rub down the birds. Include a few tablespoons of olive oil, the brown sugar, the pressed garlic, and the spices from among your seasonings (probably not the herbs), leaning heavily on the salt, pepper, curry, and paprika. Set aside.
- In your stuffing bowl, stir together all stuffing ingredients, holding back the lemon wedges and butter. Season well with all the listed seasonings, with an emphasis on the herbs, salt, and (more moderately) curry.
- Prepare your workspace and sink to have raw meat present, including all over your hands — so set your utensils and lengths of twine out in advance, clear the sink of dishes, cover certain surfaces in saran if you want. Then unwrap and thoroughly rinse the game hens, checking the skin for feather pips or other blemishes.
- Transfer birds to the bowl with oil and spices. Rub the skin of each bird thoroughly with the oil and sugar and spice mixture.
- With a spoon, stuff both birds full and insert a lemon wedge and butter pat foward the top (the breast side). Tie the drumsticks together, crossed, with twine to hold the stuffing in.
- Seat each bird in the roasting pan, breast side up on top of your onion rings. Add any leftover stuffing to the pan, it’s great, and pour any leftover oil and sugar mixture over the breasts of the birds. Clean all your meat-contacted surfaces.
- Bake uncovered for 55-60 minutes or until a knife inserted in the thickest part of the thigh shows it is cooked through. If you want to be sure of extra moisture, you can add a little white wine or beer to the bottom of the pan (although I never do, and they still come out terrific). Baste the birds with juices from the bottom of the pan 1-3 times during baking, however much you enjoy doing it.
- Plate up and enjoy! I recommend serving with sour cream and green onions or chives.
- Save the oils from the bottom of the pan for a very small gravy, or for cooking another dish another day (I made a rice-and-veggie sautée in it with my remaining wild rice, and OMG). The carcasses will be very small, but they can still be used to make a portion of stock.
Bon appetit, friends!