April 30, 2007
Steal Your Mother’s
Hen? Then Cook It Right!
Like most people, you might find yourself rifling through your mother’s
freezer and come across a small, curious looking package. It is small,
vaguely chicken-like in appearance, and might have scrawled across it
the words Rock Cornish Game Hen.
you are wearing a jacket especially equipped with inner-pockets, the
kind one might be expected to wear while committing petty larceny from
his mother, slip this inside and take it home for experimentation. It is
a Rock Cornish game hen.
You could be forgiven if you looked at one and assumed that it was
beyond your level of sophistication. Its shape and size remind us of our
good friend the pigeon, and its handy one-bird per meal size suggests
that a special kind of bird has been bred just to land on your dinner
plate. If this isn’t luxury, you can paint me red and call me late for
dinner, because I don’t know what is.
Unwrapped, it looks every bit like a small hen, and there is a tendency
for the new initiate to the Cornish game hen to assume that perhaps
they’ve eaten some magic beans or been hit with some kind of new
enlarging ray, and that they are suddenly looking down at a regularly
sized chicken. In fact, the temptation is there – small though it is –
to believe oneself to have been turned into an ogre or perhaps a small
giant, go outside, grab a stout tree trunk and begin laying waste to
Instead, steel yourself and attend to your little chicken.
The first step, whenever dealing with a raw chicken, is to rinse it in
cold water and pat it dry. (It is not to draw a face on the hen’s back
with permanent black marker, stick your hand into the body cavity and
conduct a puppet show in an open street-side window.) Cut a clove of
garlic lengthwise and rub the skin of the hen with the garlic clove. The
skin will momentarily glisten with garlic-y goodness. Into the cavity,
sprinkle some dried tarragon, which is a clue of things to come.
Now that the chicken itself is largely ready to cook, place it in an
oven-ready pan and set it aside. If it feels lonely, tell it that its
time to bask in the gentle glow of celebrity’s spotlight will soon come.
(Try not to rub hands together, or lick lips, since this might surrender
too many clues.) Turn your attention now to a basting sauce.
Start simple, with a hunk of butter. Melt it down gently. Too much heat
will scorch the butter, causing it to turn brown. Add some white cooking
wine and a healthy dash of dried tarragon. Mix them together, and set
aside for a few moments so the flavors can better blend.
The oven is probably now preheated (if it isn’t, fast forward until it
is), and it’s time to introduce your Rock Cornish game hen to the oven.
You say, “Hen, meet oven. Oven, meet hen. You two get to know each other
while I go watch a rerun of Monk.” And, if you’ve done just this, you’d
be close to being right. It will take a little longer than an hour for
your typical game hen to cook. Oh yes, cook it uncovered in the oven.
Because you are cooking the thing uncovered, you will want to mitigate
the risks of drying the thing out. Brush it regularly with your tarragon
baste, perhaps every 10 or 15 minutes ago.
Towards the end, slice up some shiitake mushrooms, for these will be
your main accompaniment. Cover the bottom of a skillet with a very thin
layer of your baste (there should be plenty left over), and sauté the
mushrooms until they are soft all the way through (watch the stems,
ornery little fellows who don’t always like to soften upon someone
There are two ways to check the doneness of your game hen. Either poke
it with a thermometer and wait until it reads 165 degrees (the juices
will also run clear), or twist one of the small drumsticks. When the
drum twists and pulls off easily … this also speaks volumes (as much
about your table manners, if you are serving this to guests).
Once cooked, remove and place on plate next to mushrooms. It has a
sophisticated appearance that can be completed with a little risotto.
Just ignore the reek of shame, given to it by your petty crime against
© 2007 North Star Writers
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