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Test Kitchen: Game hens are flavorful alternative to turkey

By Jessica Rodrigo
Nov. 13, 2013 at 5:13 a.m.

Cornish game hens are  fun birds to prepare for Thanksgiving, especially if you don't have a huge group to cook for. I served this bird with a sweet and savory gravy and a combination mash of potatoes and turnips.

Cornish game hens with grapes and thyme

Makes three hens

• 3 Cornish game hens, whole and thawed

• 11/2-2 cups of black seedless grapes, rinsed

• Handful of fresh thyme sprigs

• Fresh oregano

• 1 medium-sized onion, quartered

• 6 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed

• Whole peppercorns

• Salt and pepper to taste

• White wine for cooking and drinking

• Olive oil

• 1 tsp. butter

• 1 tsp. cornstarch

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Crush about 1 cup of grapes and scatter on the bottom of a large dutch oven or casserole dish large enough for the three games hens. Place about 3/4 of the onions in the spaces between the grapes and the rest with four or five sprigs of thyme on top the other ingredients. The grapes and onions will help keep the hens off the bottom of the pan. This will prevent sticking later, and the juices will make flavorful gravy. Drizzle a little bit of olive oil over the ingredients. Pat the skin of each bird dry and season with salt and pepper. Season the cavity with salt and pepper and stuff with two crushed garlic cloves, a few pieces of onion, two crushed grapes and a few sprigs of thyme. Lay the hens in the vessel, breast-side up in a circular arrangement to also promote even cooking. Leave a few crushed grapes on the hens and leave a few more sprigs of thyme on top and around the hens. Break off about four sprigs of fresh oregano and place in crevices around the hens. Add a few splashes of white wine to the bottom of the pot. To help retain moisture during the cooking process, cut two pieces of parchment paper just larger than the top of the pot. Cover the paper with the lid and place on the middle rack of the oven. Cook with cover for about an hour. Remove the parchment and lid and raise temperature to 425. Cook for another 15-20 minutes until the skin is a browned. Remove from oven and place hens on a plate to rest. Pour the juices through a sieve and return juices to the pot. Over a medium burner, add butter and scrape any remains off the bottom of the pot. Remove 2 tablespoons of juice and add to a small bowl or cup. Add the cornstarch and mix until no lumps remain. Return slurry to the gravy and let thicken. Serve hot with game hens or over mashed or roasted potatoes.

Can't make it? go get it

Braised Quail (As close as I could get you to game hens)

ADDRESS: The Sendera, 101 W. Goodwin St. Suite 1200, Victoria

PHONE: 361-573-9700

WHEN: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-midnight Friday, 4 p.m.-midnight Saturday

After I graduated college, I moved to the East Coast for an internship.

As I ended the internship in mid-October, I found myself jobless and homeless, so I moved back to Rio Rancho, N.M., to live on the couch in the parental units' living room.

I had just ended an amazing summer with chefs who shared with me their love of food. I was inspired to cook and wanted nothing more than to write about food and meet more people like them.

With each story they told, I made mental notes, and from them, my love for food grew, and my yearning to experiment with flavor combinations waxed.

I made my return in November, which meant I could show off my newfound skills at Thanksgiving. I was going to cook the turkey.

Unlike my normal capacity to read like a snail, I spent my summer reading biographies and autobiographies on chefs and other food lovers. I was beginning to think about food on a higher level than "What are we eating?" I was thinking, "What could we put in this dish to punch it up?" Or "What's this ingredient I've never cooked before but smells wonderful?"

So I came up with this recipe of a roasted turkey with grapes and thyme.

Most poultry can be subbed out for another, but a few adjustments need to be made to make it work right.

I used Cornish game hens for this recipe, but it could easily be increased for a chicken or turkey. The game hens also make for an easy presentation for parties. However, if you are doing anything slightly formal, I would butcher the game hens or carve them after cooking and before serving.

A lemon tarragon combination might work, too. Think outside the box with your flavors this holiday season.

Have a recipe or a dish you want me to test or have cooking questions? Send a message to jrodrigo@vicad.com or tweet @EatsEatsEats. I'm always hungry.

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