On the second Monday in October, our Canadian neighbors celebrate their Thanksgiving. Because my husband is Canadian, we had a small group of friends over.
We had the traditional fare of turkey, dressing, a potato dish and a few other sides. One friend insisted on bringing a green bean casserole made, of course, with canned French-cut green beans.
And this year, with just a small group of friends for the meal, I turned to serving Cornish game hens.
Cornish hens are inexpensive. You will usually find them sold frozen, wrapped individually with two to a package. They are petite (one weighs about 1 to 1¼ pounds), and they cook quickly. It's a good idea to figure one per person for a generous serving, but you can split them in half for two servings.
To split them, turn them over so they are breast-side down. Cut the back of the hens (a good pair of kitchen shears works best) along each side of the backbone to remove it. Then cut the hen in half along the breastbone.
You also can cook them without cutting them completely apart — butterflied, in other words. Press down lightly on the breasts to flatten them to help them cook more evenly.
Cornish hens are best oven-roasted or grilled. To guarantee that they stay moist, brine them first. Mix a basic brine of ¾ cup salt and ¼ cup sugar dissolved in a gallon of water in a pot large enough to hold the liquid and four small hens. Refrigerate 4 to 6 hours. Drain, rinse well and pat dry before roasting.
You can season and flavor these little hens as you would a whole chicken.
This recipe calls for a basting sauce made with orange marmalade. Be sure to reserve some of the basting sauce for serving.
Also, season the hens and place in the refrigerator overnight, or at least 1 hour before roasting, to dry the skin.
Orange-glazed Cornish hens
2 Cornish hens, thawed, if frozen, and any giblets removed
Salt and pepper to taste
1 teaspoon Chinese five-spice powder
¾ cup orange marmalade or apricot preserves
1 generous tablespoon Dijon mustard
¼ cup orange juice
¼ cup less-sodium, fat-free chicken broth
Vegetable oil cooking spray
Pat the hens dry. Season the cavity and the entire hens with salt and pepper to taste.
If you plan on cooking the hens flat, cut them along each side of the backbone and remove it; flatten slightly. Or cut entirely in half at the breastbone. If roasting whole, tie the legs together with kitchen string.
Place the seasoned hens in a baking dish and refrigerate at least 1 hour. When ready to roast, preheat oven to 400 degrees.
In a small saucepan, whisk together five-spice powder, marmalade or preserves, mustard, orange juice and chicken broth. Heat over medium until marmalade is melted and mixture is almost smooth (there will be bits of orange peel from the marmalade).
Divide the sauce in half; set aside one half to serve with cooked hens. Spray a broiler pan with vegetable oil cooking spray. Place hens in pan, and drizzle with some of the reserved sauce.
Place in oven and roast for 15 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees and drizzle apricot sauce over the hens again. Continue roasting, basting occasionally, until hens are done, about 30 minutes more or until cooked through. Remove from the oven, and let stand 10 minutes before serving. If serving 4 people, cut each hen in half and serve with the sauce.
Makes 2 to 4 servings.