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Friday, April 8, 2011

Cornish Hens... Mini chickens!

Here is  really simple weekday meal. The only thing about this is you have to begin preparations a day ahead of time to get the meat flavored and tender.  It tastes like chicken.  But it's not.  Well, not the kind most generally think about when they hear chicken.  It is a hybrid chicken.  But who cares right?  All that matters is that it tastes good.

If you've never tried cornish hens, you really should give it a try.  It's smaller size means it cooks much quicker than a chicken which means more tender meat with a beautiful crispy skin.  The cornish hens I picked up at the market each weighed under two pounds each.  Since this was my first attempt at making cornish hens, I wanted to keep the flavors nice and simple so I can really understand the taste of the bird.  Since this is not a game bird, we do need to thoroughly cook it to avoid the dreaded salmonella.  That means cooking it so that it reaches the USDA recommended temperature of 165.

Heres what you'll need:

Serves 4-6
2 cornish hens, butterflied
6 baking potatoes, sliced thinly
1 medium onion
2-4 sprigs fresh rosemary
12" Cast Iron pan (or roasting pan)

That's it.  Really, that's all you need.  Well, that and time.  You'll want to butterfly your chicken and by removing that backbone. It should easily come off with kitchen shears or just a good sharp cleaver.

After removing the backbone, lay the chicken flat.  Salt and pepper both the skin side and meat side liberally. You're going to want a bit of salt because this is the only seasoning to the bird.  You also want to add a generous amount because we are going to be doing a dry brine.  Stick some rosemary into the skin of the bird.  Let brine in refrigerator at least overnight, up to 48 hours.

Before you being prepping your other veggies for the meal, take your bird out of the fridge.  Also, preheat your oven to a good 500F degrees.You want to try to have it reach room temperature, so ideally about 30 minutes prior to cooking it.  Prep your potatoes by cutting it into 1/8-1/4" slices and tossing it into cold water.  The cold water will help remove the starch and prevent the potatoes from turning to that weird purple color.  Don't worry about the water because my method will ensure that the potato cooks up nicely. However, when you are ready to begin cooking, go ahead and drain out the water.

OK, let's start cooking the bird.  One way that I ensure the skin gets crispy is to do an initial sear on it.  So preheat your cast iron pan over medium high heat.  Rub or spray olive oil all over bird and sear the bird skin side down.  Do not touch the bird once it's been on the heat until the skin releases from the pan.  It should take about a minute.  Once it browns, you can easily remove the bird without destroying the layer of skin, do so and sear the other chicken.

Layer the potatoes on the pan followed by the onions.

I like to add another couple sprigs of rosemary over this top the bird over the onions and herbs.  You'll want to cook the bird skin side down for 15 minutes then flip over and cook for another 25 minutes.  By now the internal temperature should reach 160, if it hasn't, bake until it has.  If you don't have a thermometer (which you really should), stick a skewer into the joints and see if the juices run clear.  While it rests, the temperature will increase by another 5-10 degrees.

Remove bird from the pan and let rest.  Drain as much of the oil out as you can from the pan.  Lower the oven to 350 degrees and stick the potatoes and onions back into the oven.  This final stage will make sure the potatoes get nice and crispy and absorb all that wonderful juice from the bird.

I made a simple salad with a combination of baby lettuces, balsamic vinaigrette, some s&p and some freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano to go with this meal.  It was absolutely delicious.