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Stuffed Cornish Hens

Easy to prepare and even more fun to serve!

Cornish Hens with Chestnut Stuffing

Cornish hens, as we think of them, are neither Cornish nor necessarily female. In fact, they were originally bred in Connecticut less than a century ago, a cross between Cornish and White Plymouth Rock chickens, and so named "Cornish game hens." Also known more accurately the world over as poussin or young spring chicken, these small birds weigh in at about one pound with tender, flavorful flesh. They make for a stunning presentation whether individually plated or plattered for a crowd. The best part is that they cook beautifully even when stuffed, unlike large birds like turkeys, which should never be stuffed. Make this recipe anytime when company is coming for dinner, you crave a retro-chic Christmas feast, or you want to ring in the new year in effortless style!

Equipment: cutting board; chef's knife; paring knife; twine; wet and dry measuring cups; measuring spoons; large mixing bowl; large sauté pan; small saucepan or small microwave safe bowl; rimmed sheet pan fitted with a rack; wooden spoon; tongs

Stuffing Ingredients:

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 medium yellow onion, peeled, trimmed, and finely diced

2 cups finely diced (duxelles) mushrooms, such as shiitake or crimini

¼ cup chopped roasted fresh or packaged chestnuts (optional)

1 garlic clove, finely minced

3-4 cups dried diced bread cubes

1 tablespoon chopped fresh herbs, such as sage and thyme

¼ cup chicken stock

1 large eggs

kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Cornish Hen Ingredients:

4 Cornish hens or poussin (about 1 pound each)

kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 tablespoons unsalted butter 1/3 cup apricot jam

1. First prepare the stuffing. Add the butter to a large sauté pan and heat until the butter is melted and foaming. Stir in the onions and mix well to coat with the butter. Cook for 2-3 minutes, stirring constantly until the onions are softened. Stir in the garlic and sprinkle with a pinch of kosher salt. Continue cooking for another minute.

2. Add the mushroom the pan, mix well to combine, and cook until softened, about 3 minutes. Add the chopped herbs and cook for another minute. Stir in the optional chopped chestnuts.

3. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the dried bread cubes. Transfer the mixture to a bowl and season generously with kosher salt and finely ground black pepper. Sprinkle with the chicken stock. Cool for 5 minutes before stirring in the egg. Set aside.

4. While the stuffing cools, preheat the oven to 425F, with the oven rack in the top third of the chamber. Rinse and pat dry the chickens. Season generously inside the cavity and all over the skin with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper.

5. Stuff each bird with ample stuffing so that the breast plate is plump and the legs rest openly inline with the wings. Using 6-inch pieces of twine, cross the legs of each bird underneath the breast plate over the open cavity and tie tightly to truss. Place the trussed birds on a rack set over a rimmed sheet pan, breast side-up, all facing the same direction. Set aside.

ILOC tip: you could roast the birds directly on a rimmed sheet pan, but placing them atop a rack not only ensures even cooking by allowing the air to circulate freely around the bird, it also minimizes the risk that the skin will tear on these tiny, delicate carcasses.

6. Melt the butter and apricot jam and mix well to combine. Reserve two tablespoons of this mixture and set aside. Paint each bird thoroughly with the rest of the butter-apricot glaze.

7. Place the glazed hens in the oven with the legs facing forward. Roast for 15 minutes, then quickly turn the sheet pan around so that the legs face the back. Roast for another 15 minutes, or until the juices run clear when the flesh of the leg that meets the thigh bone is pierced.

ILOC tip; if you cannot quickly turn the sheet pan in the oven, it would be best to remove the sheet pan from the oven, shut the oven door, turn the pan on the stovetop or counter and then open the oven door to return the pan to the oven. It is most important to keep the hot air in the oven chamber in order to get predictable, dependable, desirable results. It's always about technique, not torture!

8. Remove the hens from the oven. Using scissors or a very sharp paring knife, carefully cut away and discard the twine. Paint each hen with the reserved glaze. Allow the birds to rest for 5 minutes before serving.

Makes 4 servings.

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