This might seem like an awful long write up about such a little bird but hopefully there’s enough here to fill the mind and the stomach all at one sitting.
Hmm, ever feeling like having some chicken but don’t want to cook up a whole bird just for yourself? Well, thanks to some cross breeding between the Cornish Hen and White Rock Hen by our friends at Tyson Foods now you can! (Actually you could since 1965 but that seemed to make for a better dramatic effect.)
Yep, it seems back then that the folks at Tyson were looking to spice up the chicken market a bit and decided to try something new. Their intent was to create a smaller bird that they could offer up as a “specialty” item that would appeal to the more delicate palates and all the while charge a higher price. The advantage to Tyson was two-fold. In addition to increasing their bottom line by charging a higher price, your average Rock Cornish Game Hen has a shorter growth span. It seems they could get these little guys to market in five to six weeks instead of the three to four months that it takes for your average run of the mill standard roasting chicken. This also helped increase the bottom line by reducing overhead in the form of feeding costs and storage.
Your Rock Cornish Game Hen has all the look and feel of your standard chicken with one exception. It’s much smaller. In fact, the average game hen weighs in anywhere between one to two pounds with about one and a quarter pounds being the standard. Its meat to bone ratio is pretty good and you can expect that one hen along with some side dishes should be enough to fill your empty tummy with delicious chicken goodness.
Where do I find my little chickadees?
Many markets carry fresh game hens that are just waiting to be cooked. You should choose one that looks plump and the skin shouldn’t have any lacerations or cuts in it. Look for ones that aren’t carrying any bruises or look broken. If you decide to purchase them fresh, expect to cook them within twenty-four hours of getting them home lest they go bad or unless you plan on freezing them for later consumption. They can be frozen from anywhere from six to nine months before they might go bad and it would be time to trash them.
Naturally, some game hens come already frozen and you can find them in your grocer's freezer case in the meat section. Most of the time, the frozen birds come in pairs so you’d have to cook both of them. To thaw them, place them in the fridge and let time do the work. Once they’re all thawed out, cook ‘em up as soon as possible and never re-freeze an unfrozen bird. Most game hens also come with their own set of tiny game hen giblets. If you don’t decide to pitch them, you can use them to add flavor to your gravy or include them in any stuffing that might appeal to your taste buds
I’m hungry, let’s eat!
The best way to prepare your game hen is to roast it like you would any other whole chicken. If you’re a good cook, you can also try braising them or even sautéing them in your favorite sauce or glaze. Naturally, the cooking time will vary depending on the weight of the bird but it should take less time than your standard chicken.
If done right, Rock Cornish Game Hens are appealing to the eye when served up on the plate and add an air of elegance to the meal that you just don’t find with a regular chicken. Rather than having to slice and carve it and pass it around, game hens are all yours to do what you want with.
My tummy is growling, where’s the food?
Here’s a little recipe that I’ve used with some degree of success when my stomach calls out for some chicken. It serves four hungry people but you can stretch it out to six or maybe even eight if you have a bunch of appetizers or side dishes…
1/4 cup of decent olive oil
About 1/8 of a cup of red wine vinegar
About 1/8 cup of cooking sherry
About ¼ cup of honey
About ½ tablespoon of cumin
About ½ teaspoon of ground cinnamon
Salt and Pepper to taste
Fist of all, combine all that stuff (except for the birds, they come later) in a small heavy duty saucepan and bring to a simmer. When the simmering starts, stir constantly until it starts to thicken. It should take anywhere between three and five minutes.
Get out your little basting brush and glaze the birds with the mixture and don’t be shy about it. Rub ‘em real good and try and get every nook and cranny covered.
Set your oven to four hundred degrees and roast away. Baste the birds with any remaining glaze that you have every ten minutes or so. They should be done anywhere between forty five to fifty minutes. (Since oven temperatures vary, you can prick the skin around the thigh. If the juices run clear, you’re set!)
Serve up with a your beverage of choice but I’ve found that a nice bottle of wine provides the best accompaniment, especially if it’s one of those candlelit romantic settings.