Cornish Hens are an easy, great dish to prepare for company, a special evening, or any sophisticated dinner. Typically a December holiday entree; serve these elegant little hens any time of the year – especially in the spring. Since hens have an affinity for lemon and fruity flavors, combining Apricot Jam and Meyer Lemon gives this special menu an amazing combination. As a bonus, now is the perfect time to serve this meal when Meyer Lemons are in season. If you can’t find Meyer Lemons you can substitute with Lemon in all the recipes for this dish.
Cornish Game Hens with Apricot Glacé
2 Cornish hens, approximately 1½ pounds each
2 cups buttermilk
⅛ teaspoon cayenne pepper
Apricot Glacé (recipe below)
With a sharp knife or poultry shears, remove the backbones from the hens and slice through the breastbone, cutting the hens in half. Place in a glass dish skin side up. Whisk together the buttermilk, 1 teaspoon salt, and cayenne. Pour over the hens, turn them over skin side down, cover, and marinate refrigerated for 4 hours or overnight.
Set a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 450 degrees. Wash the buttermilk off the hens and dry thoroughly. Brush the skin of the hens with olive oil and set them, skin side up, on a wire rack set in a foil-lined rimmed baking sheet. Sprinkle the skin with salt. Roast the hens until almost cooked through about 25 minutes. An instant-read thermometer inserted in the thickest part of the thigh should register 165 degrees.
Brush the hens with the Apricot Glacé and continue to roast until the Glacé has browned in spots and the thermometer registers 170 degrees in the thigh, about 5 to 7 minutes more. Remove from the oven, and brush again with Apricot Glacé, and serve immediately with extra Apricot Glacé, Meyer Lemon Beurre Blanc, Rosemary Wild Rice, and Buttery Pine Nuts. Makes 4 servings.
2 tablespoons Meyer Lemon juice
2 teaspoons cornstarch
⅔ cup Apricot Jam
In a small bowl whisk until smooth the Meyer lemon juice and 2 teaspoons cornstarch; set aside. In a small saucepan over low heat melt the apricot jam, then whisk in the lemon/cornstarch mixture. When combined, add to a blender, or use an immersion blender, process until very smooth and return to a clean saucepan. Keep warm; cover and hold over very low heat. The sauce can be made the day prior and reheated gently over low heat.
Meyer Lemon Beurre Blanc
¼ cup Meyer lemon juice
¼ cup tablespoons white vinegar
3 teaspoons minced shallot, finely diced
¼ cup heavy cream
¼ cup butter, diced
1 teaspoon Meyer lemon zest
In a small saucepan over medium-low heat add the lemon juice, vinegar, and shallots and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Cook until the liquid is reduced to one fourth or 2 tablespoons. Add the cream and bring to a simmer, reducing the cream slightly for about one minute.
Take the pan off the heat and swirl in several pieces of diced butter – about a fourth of the butter. When the butter is incorporated, whisk in a few more pieces, about another fourth of the butter. The sauce should begin to feel smooth and look creamy. Place the pan back over medium-low heat and whisk in the remaining butter until the sauce is smooth. Add ¼ teaspoon salt and a pinch of pepper. Strain the sauce through a fine-mesh sieve in a clean saucepan.
Gently stir in the lemon zest and season to taste with more salt and white pepper. Keep warm in a double boiler over low heat. When the hens are ready, drizzle on the plates with the Cornish hens.
Rosemary Wild Rice
1 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoons onion, finely chopped
1 cup wild rice
2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary or 1 teaspoon dried and crushed
1¾ cups chicken stock
2 teaspoons Meyer lemon zest
½ cup chopped parsley
Fresh ground pepper
In a large saucepan, melt butter over medium heat. Add onion and ½ teaspoon of salt. Cook while stirring occasionally, until the onions are tender, 3 to 5 minutes. Add rice and rosemary; cook, stirring until the rice smells toasty, about 1 minute. Add the stock and follow the time directions on the package to cook the wild rice. When cooked, stir in the lemon zest and parsley. Season to taste with more salt and pepper. Serve on the plates with the Cornish Hens. Make 4 servings.
Buttery Toasted Pine Nuts
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
¼ cup pine nuts
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
Melt the butter in a small sauté pan. Add the pine nuts, toss often, and cook until golden, about 3-5 minutes. Place in a bowl and add the salt and toss. Arrange on the plates with the Cornish Hens.