little birds

Posted on June 17, 2011

Emily and I wanted to do something a little special (and very delicious) for a recent dinner party.  After nearly endless debate and hours scanning the pages of our cookbooks, we settled roast cornish hens from Ad Hoc at Home.  These succulent little chickens are slathered and stuffed with gremolata butter.  It couldn’t possibly be bad.

Roasted Game Hens with Gremolata Butter, from Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc at Home.

For the gremolata butter
1 t black peppercorns
finely rated zest of 2 lemons
2 garlic cloves, grated or minced
12 T (1.5 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 T lemon juice
2 T  finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 T kosher salt

Grind the pepper in a mortar and pestle, add the lemon zest and garlic, and mash to a paste.  Stir pepper mixture and butter together in a medium bowl followed by the lemon juice.  Stir in the parsley and salt.

Yummmmm.  You could do anything with this and it will turn out amazing.  But, we chose to put it all over little birds.

For the hens
4 cornish game hens
duck fat (you can use canola oil if you’d like)
6 garlic cloves, smashed, skin left on
1 bunch thyme
fleur de sel (any sea salt will do)

Remove the neck and innards if they are still intact.  Rinse the birds inside and out then dry them thoroughly with a paper towel.  Then remove the wish bone.

Next, insert your fingers between the skin and the meat, starting at the end of the cavity.  Work your way down the breasts and repeat for the thighs.  Once the skin is loosened, insert about .5 T of the gremolata butter under each thigh and about 1 T under each breast.  Truss the birds and let them stand at room temperature for about 30 minutes.  While they rest, preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

Brush the birds with melted duck fat (or canola oil if you’re using that) and season with sea salt.  Don’t go crazy with the salt here because there is a healthy does of it in the butter already.  Place the birds on their backs in a single layer on a roasting pan and evenly scatter the garlic and thyme around the birds.   Put the birds in the oven for about 25 or 30 minutes, until the internal temperature of the thigh is 160 degrees.  Let rest on a cooling rack for 10-15 minutes then either serve them whole, halved, or quartered.

conclusions:
This was a delightful, tasty meal and those little birds made it feel special.  The gremolata butter is great and I can think of a dozen things to do with it.  The first being this same recipe, but with normal sized chickens.  This is my only complaint with the recipe; the birds are so small that they only take 25 to 30 minutes to cook, which is not nearly enough time for the skin to get brown and crispy.  Next time, I’ll be making this recipe with a four pound chicken and giving it 50-60 minutes in the oven (reducing the temperature to 350 after 10 or 15 minutes, of course).  I’ll let you guys know how it turns out.

-Jordan