Friday, March 11, 2011

The Tale of Two Hens

I do intend to make Cocktail Wednesdays a regular feature on the blog, as well as a tradition in out house. Hoever, we didn't do it this week, because we had tickets to the Red Wings game. Unfortunately, I forgot to bring my camera, so I can't regale you with the story of the game, accompanied by shots of the Detroit River and Joe Lewis Arena.

Instead, I will let you in on a little experiment I did this weekend. I have never roasted a whole chicken before, and only assisted with turkeys. We managed to get two Cornish hens at a good price, but I was a little intimidated because I usually make meals that take about thirty minutes to cook. I save the bigger stuff for the weekends. And these little chickens just kept getting left in the freezer and I made easier things and was busy on weekends. At first, I didn't realize that the hens were big enough for two people to eat one, so I defrosted both at the same time. Uh-oh, that meant that I had to use both!

Ultimately, I decided to use two different recipes on two successive nights. The recipes I picked were fairly simple, because I didn't want to go back out to the store. Therefor, they only involved the chicken and items I typically keep in my pantry. I did, of course, have to pull a tiny bit of substitution -- lemon and lime juice in a bottle, a clove of garlic and a little onion for a shallot. It turned out well, though.

The first person I turned to for recipes was Julia Child. I decided to keep it simple anad use her Poulet Rôti (Roast Chicken) recipe. This recipe calls for the chicken to be rubbed with butter and salt, very simple.

The next thing I had to do was truss the chicken, and her method wasn't going to work, because I don't own a trussing or mattress needle. I certainly didn't know any methods myself. A little searching later, I found some videos online, and my favorite was this one:

It worked like a charm, as you can see:
trussed and ready for roasting

Once I had trussed my hen, I added chopped onion and carrot to the pan and popped it in the oven. Next, I followed her basting and turning directions, grabbing the chicken out of the oven every ten minutes or so and brushing it with a mixture of butter and oil, and occasionally adding more salt.

roasted cornish hen

As you can see, it turned out beautifully roasted. I removed it from the pan and cooked the drippings and caramelized veggies with some broth, a clove of garlic, and a little butter, making a really lovely, flavorful sauce.

Dinner with Cornish Hen

I served it with puréed roasted acorn squash and roasted potatoes, along with fresh bread. I baked the bread first, then roasted everything else along with the chicken. I also added the leftover roasted onion and carrots to the squash purée, which added a bit of depth. I wish I hadn't added a little un-roasted garlic, too, but luckily, we both like garlic.

Sunday night, I tried a recipe from another cookbook, French: Delicious Classic Cuisine Made Easy, which I have owned for many years and had success with in the past. This time, I chose the Poussins Grillés (Broiled Squab Chicken) recipe.

This one called for getting out the kitchen shears and cutting that chicken in half, removing the backbone, then smashing it each half down with a rolling pin. Next, it was a combination of butter, olive oil, garlic, thyme, cayenne, salt, pepper, lemon and lime juice that was smeared under the skin. Once the skin was basted with a blend of olive oil, lemon and lime juice and honey, they went into the broiler.

The reason I have no pictures for you is that last phrase, "went into the broiler". There is not photographic evidence of my shame. When I pulled them out after just five minutes in order to baste them again, they were blackened. They weren't supposed to be blackened. I didn't expect them to be blackened, because I had not moved the top rack in the oven close to the broiler. This is how I learned what it means that this oven has a high and low setting for the broiler, and which one I should be using when I am trying to approximate any other time I have ever broiled anything. That is to say, I should always use the "low" broiler setting.

After turning the broiler down, I returned the basted chicken to the oven and followed the rest of the recipe. In the end, the chicken was tasty and even moist. I served it with green beans I had frozen earlier in the year from the fall harvest, and rice. It made a nice meal. The chicken just looked terrible.

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