Roasted Cornish hens

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By Hedy Khoo

The New Paper

Tuesday, Dec 17, 2013

  • Christmas dinner does not necessarily mean having turkey.

    The hefty bird is not easy to cook. And if you do not cook it right, it is equally hard to finish.

    For my second Christmas countdown recipe, I chose Cornish hens, a simpler alternative that will still add cheer to your festive feast.

    Think of it as giving each dinner guest his own mini-turkey.

    Oven-roasted with a couple of side vegetables, Cornish hens make for nice presentation and with all the over-eating that goes on this season, your party guests will welcome this waist-friendly main course.

    Allow for one bird per person, unless you have a very hungry guest.

    Cornish hens - a type of cross-bred chicken - are very small birds weighing slightly more than 400g.

    You can find it in some supermarkets in the frozen section, near where the turkeys are sold.

    I picked an Australian brand of Cornish hen as the packaging promised it to be hormone-free.

    It can be rather disconcerting to open the packaging and find downy feathers stuck on the bird. Remove these and clean the bird with care as its skin is thin and tears easily.

    If you want your birds to cook faster, remove the back bones but do not discard them.

    Marinate and roast the back bones along with the hens to nibble on as a snack. Or use them to make stock, along with any remaining vegetables.

    I chose to tie the hen's legs and use skewers to hold them and a lemon in place.

    Not only does skewering give the bird a more attractive shape, it means there is less risk of the meat drying out during roasting.

    A Cornish hen has very little fat under its skin, so do not be shy with the olive oil before cooking.

    Baste with honey and butter towards the end of the roasting to give it that golden finish.

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  • 2 Cornish hens
  • 2 quarters of a lemon
  • 10 sage leaves (with stalks)
  • 2 rosemary sprigs
  • ½ tsp salt
  • Black pepper
  • 10g of butter
  • Marinade
  • 1 tbsp dark rum
  • 1 tbsp Cointreau or any other orange-based liqueur
  • 1 tsp light soya sauce
  • 3 sage leaves, thinly sliced
  • 2-3 basil leaves, thinly sliced
  • 4 tbsp olive oil
  • Final basting mixture
  • 1 tbsp oyster sauce
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • Side vegetables:
  • 500g new potatoes
  • 100g baby carrots
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1. Defrost the Cornish hen in its original packaging.
  • 2. Once defrosted, remove packaging. Remove any excess feathers, carefully rinse the bird and its cavity.
  • 3. Using a pair of kitchen scissors, remove the back bone, including the neck.
  • 4. Rinse again and pat dry with kitchen paper towels. Place in the fridge for 30 minutes to dry.
  • 5. Once the bird is dry to touch, rub salt and black pepper into the cavity. Use about a quarter teaspoon of salt per Cornish hen. Add the marinade.
  • 6. Allow to marinate for an hour (ideally overnight), cavity side up. Place a rosemary sprig and a few sage leaves in the cavity. Reserve the marinade to use for basting.
  • 7. Before roasting, place a lemon quarter in the cavity of the hen.
  • 8. Tie the legs of the Cornish hen with kitchen string.
  • 9. Skewer the bird diagonally through the leg, the lemon and the wing. Repeat with other leg and wing.
  • 10. Marinade the baby potatoes and carrots in olive oil and place in the roasting tray. Season with a pinch of salt and pepper.
  • 11. Heat oven to 230 deg C. Place hens on metal rack in roasting tray, over the baby potatoes, cavity side up. Roast for 15 minutes.
  • 12. Baste with remaining marinade and roast for another 15 minutes.
  • 13. Toss the potatoes and carrots.
  • 14. Turn the chicken over and brush on final basting mixture.
  • 15. Roast for another 10 minutes.
  • 16. Halve the butter and place a piece on each hen. Use a brush to spread the butter over the breast. Roast for another 10 minutes.
  • 17. Turn off the heat and keep the Cornish hens in the oven with the door open for 10 to 20 minutes.
  • 18. Serve with vegetables as sides.