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Grilled Cornish game hens with barbecue glaze recipe

Food For Thought
By Deborah Lee Walker | Apr 26, 2017

(April 28, 2017) Have you ever wondered what exactly is a Cornish hen?

Cornish game hens (also referred to as Cornish hens) are small female chickens with mostly white meat that are suitable for single servings. According to “Cornish Game Hens, Facts, and History,” in order to be classified as such, a Cornish game hen must be less than 2.2 pounds in ready-to-cook weight.

Because the breasts are small, there is a high ratio of fatty skin to meat. The fatty underside bastes the meat as it cooks, which might explain why the meat is more juicy, tender and flavorful than those of regular chickens.

That being said, I realize as I get more mature, my mind plays tricks on me. I know I have seen Cornish hens that are larger than the specified weight of 2.2 pounds. As it turns out, Cornish hens take a long time to mature, so commercial farmers have crossbred Plymouth Rock chickens with Cornish game hens. Grocery-store Cornish chickens can be male or female and weigh between 2 and 5 pounds. Harris Teeter carries two frozen Cornish game hens for $8.99.

Traditionally, cooking magazines promote the little bird during the winter holiday season. However, why does one have to wait for frigid temperatures to enjoy the dainty, delectable bird? Personally, I think the warmer months are more apropos for such a refined delicacy.

When cooking any type of bird, a chef wants to develop a crispy skin. The physical size of a Cornish game hen is not conducive for much oven time, so what is the solution? Spatchcocking the birds and giving them a rub of baking powder solves this particular dilemma.

Before we delve into the subject of spatchcocking, let us briefly discuss the use of baking powder. A light rub of baking powder helps reduce the moisture so a crispier skin can be achieved. That being said, only use a small amount of baking powder, otherwise it will add bitterness to the meat.

Spatchcocking is a culinary term found in cookery books during the 18th and 19th centuries, and revived toward the end of the 20th century. According to “The Oxford Companion to Food,” “Spatchcocking is of Irish origin. The theory is that the word is an abbreviation of ‘dispatch cock,’ a phrase used to indicate a way of grilling a bird after splitting it open down the back and spreading the two halves out flat.”

The procedure is very simple. Place the bird breast side down on a carving board. Using poultry shears or a sharp knife, cut through the bones on both sides of the backbone and remove it. Turn the Cornish game hen over and cut off the tips of the wings, they will be the first to burn. Either freeze the backbone and wing tips for chicken stock or discard them.

There is excessive skin on the Cornish game hen at the base of the leg area between the leg itself and the cavity of the body. Make a 1-inch slit, then insert the tip of the drumstick. This is a simple way of keeping the legs close to the body. Repeat this process for the other side.

Using a pointed skewer, go through the leg, breast and wing diagonally. Repeat this process for the opposite side. You will end up with two skewers crisscrossing each other. This secures the Cornish game hens for grilling and speeds up the cooking time.

Spring is here and grills should be cleaned and ready to go. Grilled Cornish game hens with a barbecue glaze are fit for fabulous eating. Brining the bird is necessary for optimum results. I must note that cooking Cornish game hens on a grill differs from roasting in an oven. This recipe is based on grilling. There is much to do so let’s get started.

Grilled Cornish Game Hens

Brining Instructions

1 cup kosher salt

4 quarts cold water

4 Cornish Game Hens (giblets removed)

1. Dissolve the salt in 4 quarts of water in a large container. Submerge hens in brine and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours.

Prepping the Cornish Game Hens

kosher salt

freshly ground pepper

baking powder

1. Remove birds from refrigerator and rinse thoroughly. Pat dry with paper towels. Spatchcock hens and sprinkle generously with salt and pepper, and lightly with baking powder. Using your fingers, rub the dry seasonings into the skin. Place the spatchcocked birds on a sheet pan, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2 hours.

Barbecue Glaze

1 cup ketchup

4 tablespoons brown sugar

2 tablespoons soy sauce

2 tablespoons rice vinegar

2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

1 teaspoon garlic powder

1 teaspoon onion powder

favorite hot sauce according to taste

1. Cook all the ingredients in a small saucepan over medium heat, stirring occasionally for about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.

To Grill Cornish Game Hens

1. Position the rack of the grill so that it is about 4 inches from the hot coals. Cook birds on both sides without the lid so they can develop a nice char but not burnt, approximately 20 minutes. Start basting with barbecue glaze until the Cornish game hens reach an internal temperature of 180 degrees.

2. Remove birds from grill and place on a rack with a sheet pan underneath. This will help stop the cooking process. Allow to rest for 5 minutes and serve immediately.

Secret Ingredient - Patience. “Life is 10 percent what happens to me, and 90 percent of how I react to it.” — Charles Swindoll

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