Saturday, April 7, 2007

In which a gamble pays off

Vegetarians, avert your eyes. Omnivores, pay attention.

Due to a momentary lapse of concentration while in the grocery store this evening, I ended up with a Cornish game hen that I didn't need. Never one to let good poultry go to waste, and in need of some sort of dinner, I decided to use as a jumping-off point a recipe that I'd been considering earlier for Easter supper*. I used the basic spices and cooking format, but made a few changes. It smelled good as it was cooking, but I didn't realize how good until I took it out of the oven, put the bird on my plate, and ate a piece of bread that had brushed up against it. Delicious. So I took the rest of my bread (which I had intended to use to mop up my vegetable soup) and stood over the stove for five minutes, mopping up the divinely good drippings in the bottom of the roasting pot. And when I was done eating dinner, I put the pot (and the hen carcass) back in the fridge, 'cause I'm just not ready to give up those drippings. I'm sure I'll find a use for them.

Anyway, the recipe. I'm going to list the quantities I used for one hen, and you can multiply them by as many hens as you're cooking. It should be pretty linear that way.

Unexpectedly Delicious Cornish Game Hens
Serves one; modify as necessary

1 Cornish game hen
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
1/4 tsp. ground turmeric
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1-2 tbsp. vegetable oil
1/2 lemon
2 tbsp. sour cherry jam**

Preheat the oven to 375F.

Combine the four dry seasonings in a bowl, sieving if necessary to break up clumps. Rinse the bird under cold water, inside and out, and pat dry. Sprinkle spice mixture over the bird (both sides), patting to make it stick. Oh, and stick half of a lemon (or a quarter, it probably doesn't matter) in the chest cavity.

Get out a stove-top-proof roasting pan large enough to hold all of the birds you're cooking (I found my three-quart pot well suited to the job), and stick it on the stove over medium-high heat. Add the oil, and when it's hot, stick the bird in the pot. Let it sizzle away until it's nicely browned, about four or five minutes, and then do the same for the other side.

While it's doing its thing, put your jam and an approximately equal volume of water in a small pot or skillet and bring it to a simmer. While it simmers, whisk it a bit so that the jam breaks up and more or less dissolves into the water. You won't end up with a perfect syrup, but it will be a looser mixture than the original jam, and it will smell really good.

When your bird is brown and smells delicious, turn off the heat, pour the jam mixture over the bird, and put the pot (uncovered) in the oven. After 15 minutes or so, take it out and baste it with some of the lovely juices and drippings that have accumulated in the bottom of the pan, and then return it to the oven for another 15 minutes. According to the original recipe, the bird should be done after a total of 30 minutes in the oven, but mine wasn't--at least I didn't get the recipe-required reading of 170F when I stuck a thermometer into the leg. Basically, cook it, basting every 10-15 minutes, until you think it's done and you trust the doneness enough to eat it.

Let the bird rest out of the oven for a few minutes (it'll be longer than that, anyway, before you can tear into it without burning your fingers and/or mouth). While you wait, as soon as the drippings are cool enough, tear up some good bread and use it to mop up the deliciousness that covers the bottom of the pot. Then go to town on the bird--I recommend using your fingers.

* I rarely, if ever, use the word "supper," but for some reason in the case of Easter it seems to work.
** The original recipe told you to make a syrup out of water, sugar, and pomegranate juice. I didn't have any pomegranate juice, but I had some sour cherry jam from the suitor's parents, and it tasted like it might do the trick. If you want to go the pomegranate route, combine equal volumes of juice, water, and sugar in a pot. Bring the mixture to a boil and simmer, uncovered, 15-20 minutes (or until thick and syrupy).