High Falutin’ Hens (or Poussins)

October 23, 2015

…a tight hard little woman humorless as a chicken.
John Steinbeck, East of Eden

Or is the proper spelling high falootin’?

Either way, calling these birds rock Cornish game hens just sounds rather pretentious, so hoity-toity. Not a game bird, it is simply an immature (barely a month old) breed of bantam, hybrid chicken which the French often label poussin which is either female or male, under two pounds, usually one plus. Tender, moist and amatory fare, though.

Given my leanings (I stay in the States, but my soul resides in France), this is somewhat of a French take.

CORNISH GAME HENS OR POUSSINS

2 (1+ lb) Cornish game hens or poussins

3-4 T unsalted butter, room temperature
Sea salt and fresh ground black pepper
Herbes de Provence
Thyme sprigs
Rosemary sprigs
Dried prunes or apricots (optional)

1 head fresh, plump garlic, cut transversely

2 shallots, peeled and sliced
1⁄2 lb mushrooms (cèpes, crimini, et al.), bottoms trimmed and quartered

3-4 T cognac or brandy
3-4 T chicken stock

Preheat oven to 425 F.

Allow the game hens (after unfreezing) to rest at room temperature for at least one hour. Pat birds totally dry, thoroughly rub the chicken inside and out with butter and season inside the cavity and outside with salt, pepper and dried herbes de Provence. Place rosemary and thyme sprigs inside the cavities as well as the optional dried fruit. Then, truss the birds and place them in the roasting pan breast side down. Strew each cut garlic half around them and cook them about 15 minutes. Baste throughout.

Reduce heat to 375 F.

Turn the hens breast side up for a total cooking time of around 50 minutes. As the birds roast, strew shallots and mushrooms onto the roasting pan around the chicks. Baste throughout.

Place an overturned soup bowl under one end of a platter or cutting board so it is tilted at an angle. Remove the roasting pan from the oven and turn the game hens so that the juices in the cavity are emptied onto the pan. Then, transfer the hens to the angulated platter or board, with breast side down and tail in the air. Cut the trussing string free and remove.

Meanwhile with a wooden spatula, scrape bits stuck to the surface of the roasting pan. When the pan is hot, add brandy to deglaze and, then stock, bringing to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer several minutes until thickened, when it coats the spatula.

Loosely tent the poussins with foil and let rest on the incline around 10 minutes. It will actually keep cooking some, and the juices will disperse evenly throughout the meat. (The birds are cooked when the juices run yellowish when pierced.)

Serve each bird on or over a plate with couscous, Israeli couscous, rice pilaf, basmati or jasmine rice, wild + white rice, new potatoes, pasta, a baguette, asparagus, peas, green beans, chinese peas, snow peas or a funky salad — with sauce and companions spooned atop.

No carving required.

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