Chicken Little

Although chicken is definitely a favorite in my house, there are times I like to vary a Shabbat dinner with a succulent, diminutive hybrid of chicken — the Cornish hen. I find that they are sweeter than chicken, because they are almost all white meat, and they are faster and easier to cook.

If you have access to fresh hens, as opposed to frozen, they really are a treat. In fact, I always roast one or two extra ones to be eaten over fresh greens as a delightful Saturday or Sunday cold lunch.

I have also found that Cornish hens are perfect for dinner parties, as well as a simple family meal. They are a relative bargain in the market (one bird serves two), are quick to prepare, and are adaptable to various cooking methods and different ethnic cuisines.

The following main-dish recipes are wonderful examples of the versatility of the Cornish hen, and will bring an element of delighted surprise to your next Friday-night table or any other festive gathering.

Hens Sautéed With Mushrooms & Onions

2 Tbsps. olive oil
4 Cornish hens, quartered
2 shallots, chopped
24 pearl onions, peeled
1 lb. mushrooms, sliced
2 cloves garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
1 cup kosher white wine
2 cups chicken stock
salt and pepper
1/4 cup minced parsley

In a large skillet, heat the oil, browning the hens on all sides. Remove and reserve.

Add the shallots, pearl onions and mushrooms to the skillet, and cook until onions and mushrooms are brown.

Add the garlic and wine to the skillet. Bring to a boil and cook until the wine is reduced to 1/4 cup. Add the stock. Bring to a boil and add the hens.

Cover and simmer for about 40 minutes, turning hens once during that time.

Remove the hens and vegetables from skillet and keep warm.

Degrease the pan juices and bring pan juices to a boil. Cook until reduced to 1 cup of liquid. Taste for salt and pepper.

Spoon the sauce over the hens and vegetables.

Serves 8.

Grilled Moroccan Cornish Hens

4 Cornish hens, halved
salt and pepper

Marinade Ingredients:
juice of 1 lemon
juice of 1 orange
3 Tbsps. chopped parsley
1 Tbsp. fresh coriander (cilantro) leaves
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 Tbsp. crushed coriander seeds
1 Tbsp. crushed cumin seed
1/3 cup olive oil

Rinse the hens; pat dry. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Mix the marinade ingredients until well-blended.

Place the hens in large, zip-lock plastic bag and pour marinade over them. Seal bag and refrigerate for six hours or over-night.

Remove the hens from marinade and reserve marinade for basting.

Place the hens on a hot grill, skin-side down. Cook, basting with marinade, about 15 minutes.

Turn the hens over and cook another 15 minutes, basting every so often.

Serves 8.

Roast Cornish Hen With Apple Stuffing

Stuffing Ingredients:
1/2 cup chopped parsley
2 Tbsps. chopped basil
1/2 cup chopped chives
1/2 cup fresh breadcrumbs
2 cups diced apples, sautéed
1 small onion, chopped and sautéed
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. freshly ground pepper
1 egg

4 Cornish hens
salt and pepper
2 Tbsps. olive oil

Preheat oven to 350°.

To make the stuffing, mix all ingredients until well-combined.

Rinse the hens well; pat dry. Season the cavity and exterior with salt and pepper. Loosely fill the cavities with stuffing and skewer tail vent closed.

Truss the birds with kitchen string for a neater package. Brush the hens with olive oil and place breast-side up in roasting pan.

Roast for 55 minutes, basting with pan juices every so often.

Remove from oven and let sit about 15 minutes.

Remove skewer and trussing string and cut each hen in half before serving.

Serves 8.

Triple-Mustard Hen Salad

Dressing Ingredients:
1 cup mayonnaise
3 Tbsps. sweet-hot mustard
2 Tbsps. Dijon mustard
1 Tbsp. grainy mustard
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

6 cups diced, cooked Cornish hen
4 celery stalks, sliced
1 red bell pepper, seeded and diced
1 head radicchio lettuce, halved and thinly sliced
Romaine lettuce leaves
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley

In a medium bowl, combine the mayonnaise with the mustards, lemon juice, salt and pepper.

In a large bowl, combine the hen, celery, pepper and radicchio.

Toss with dressing.

On a round or oval platter, arrange Romaine leaves in a spoke-like pattern.

Mound the hen salad in center and sprinkle with parsley.

Serves 6 to 8.

Louise Fiszer is a California cooking teacher and food writer. Among the six books she's co-authored is Jewish Holiday Feasts.



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