Well-seasoned, juicy poultry is one of my favorite meal staples. Since it's fall, Chef Jeff thought he'd give it an autumn twist. Of course, you could just bake the birds and forego the side dish of squash; but he designed this to be served as a complete meal with a pretty presentation.
The orange and lemon overtones in the hens pair really well with cinnamon and nutmeg flavored squash. The flavors make sense and complement each other. And I'll tell you, when I made this, the citrus and the thyme combination in this gravy infusion is incredible!
The key to making such a great gravy is baking the birds in an oven-safe dish. Don't get out your roasting rack. The juices will evaporate, instead of accumulate, with that technique. Chef Jeff also took the time to explain how to cut the Cornish hens perfectly in half. His tips really work! So if you follow his 'tricks', you, too, can serve this 'treat' up like a pro and impress your dining companions.
And if you are wondering why this isn't an 'Emergency Eats' feature - well, that's because Chef Jeff and I switched hats (and aprons) this month for a little Halloween trickery! I took over 'Emergency Eats' just this one time with a crock-pot recipe, and he's giving you this complete meal.
Ingredients: (Citrus-Garlic Stuffed Cornish Hens)
2 Cornish hens (These will be cut in half, down the middle after cooking; making two equal servings per hen.)
1 Tbsp unsalted butter (plus 1 Tbsp butter reserved later for gravy)
2 - 1/4s of lemon wedges (This means you will need 1 lemon for the complete recipe.)
2 - 1/4s orange wedges (This means you will need 1 orange for the complete recipe.)
2 garlic cloves, peeled, smashed
2 sprigs of fresh thyme (If you don't have fresh thyme you can use dried, but fresh is best.)
1/4 tsp paprika
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp salt
sprinkle of pepper
1 scallion, diced (for garnish, optional)
1 tsp corn starch (reserved for gravy)
Instructions: (for the Cornish Hens)
1. Preheat the oven to 425°.
2. Remove giblets from the hen cavities. (You can freeze them for future use in stock or gravy.)
3. Place the hen breast-side up, with the large open cavity facing towards you.
4. Gently push your fingers under the skin, making a large pocket over the breast bone on both sides.
5. Take the pat of butter and break it up into smaller pieces and push it under the skin. It will be lumpy. Once the butter is under the skin you can massage it flat through the top of the skin. The butter will add moisture and a buttery flavor to the meat. It also promotes browning of the skin.
6. Stuff the cavity with a garlic clove in each, some thyme in each, and a 1/4 lemon wedge and a 1/4 orange wedge - in each hen. Make sure the ingredients are pushed as deep into the cavity as they will go. If the lemon and orange wedges stick out a little, that's ok.
Photo credit: Jeff Doucette
7. Sprinkle the hens with the paprika, garlic powder, salt, and pepper. The spice measurements are approximate and can be adjusted according to your preferences. (Chef Jeff seasoned his hens in advance of stuffing them in the above photos, but either way works. If you can't flip your hen with skill without losing the stuffing inside, then season them first. If you don't like getting the spices all over your fingers, then my suggestion is to stuff your hens first, then season second. Yes, I flip the hens so the spices get on both sides. I'm picky like that.)
8. Place the hens in an oven-safe dish. The hens will go into the oven at the same time as the spaghetti squash. When they take the plunge into the oven, they will be uncovered.
9. Place the entire, uncut squash on the same oven rack that you will put the Cornish hens. Yes - right on the rack itself. Place the hens in their oven-safe dish next to the squash.
10. Reduce the oven temperature to 350° and cook everything uncovered for 1 hour. It will all be done at the same time.
Here's a note worth noting: The reason why the oven was preheated to 425° was to compensate for the loss of heat when you open the oven door to put the hens and squash inside. It's always a good idea to over-pre-heat your oven and then turn the temperature down once you close the door.
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Ingredients: (for the Pumpkin-Spiced Apple Sauce Spaghetti Squash)
1 cooked spaghetti squash (as per the instructions above)
1 cup apple sauce (Chef Jeff used chunky-style; I used smooth. Both work fine. It's your choice.)
1/2 lemon (this is where you use your Cornish hen leftover lemon!)
1/2 orange (again, this is the 1/2 leftover from the Cornish hen recipe)
1/2 tsp pumpkin spice*
2 Tbsp unsalted butter
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
1/4 cup sliced almonds (for garnish, optional)
Instructions: (for the Pumpkin-Spiced Apple Sauce Spaghetti Squash) (Do this while your hens and squash are roasting.)
1. In a small saucepan, melt the butter on medium heat.
2. Squeeze both the half lemon and half orange into the butter.
3. Add the ingredients above (except for the squash; That's in the oven anyway.)
4. Simmer everything for a few minutes, stirring occasionally, until everything is combined. Remove from heat. Set aside.
5. Being very careful, use a towel to hold the squash and cut it in half length-wise. Use a very sharp knife to do this. It will make your job easier.
6. Use a spoon to scrape out the top layer containing all of the seeds. It can be tricky to remove them all. They look like pumpkin seeds, but should not be eaten.
7. Once the seeds are removed, use a fork and scrape from the sides towards the center. This creates the "spaghetti". The entire inside of the squash is edible. You can scrape it down all the way to the shell. (1/2 of the squash will yield four 1-cup servings.)
8. Take the squash out of the shell, which now looks like spaghetti, and place it in a serving bowl. Combine the pumpkin-spiced apple sauce with the squash and gently toss.
Now back to the hens:
9. Place one hen on a large cutting board, breast-side up, with the open cavity facing you. Remove the stuffing, but save it!
10. Take a large, sharp knife and place it inside the cavity as deep as it will go. With the knife in your cutting hand, use your other hand to press the top of the knife down. Rock the knife in a see-saw motion cutting through the bottom of the bird.
11. Now flip the hen over and do the same thing on the other side, cutting through the breast bone. Now you will have two perfectly cut halves. Repeat steps 9 - 11 for the other hen.
12. Melt the reserved 1 Tbsp butter in a saucepan. Add the reserved 1 tsp of cornstarch to the butter and mix it until it forms a crumbly paste.
13. Turn the heat up to medium-high.
14. Take the pan drippings from the dish you roasted the hens in, plus the juices on the cutting board, and place them in the saucepan.
14. Take a butter knife and press the juices out of the lemon and orange wedges that were roasted inside of the chickens into the saucepan.
15. Add the roasted garlic cloves from inside of the birds, plus the thyme sprigs to the gravy, too.
16. Whisk everything for about a minute until it's fairly smooth. Once heated through, remove it from the stove.
17. Pour the gravy through a strainer to remove any lumps, pulp, garlic cloves, and thyme.
1. Put a portion of the spaghetti squash on one third of the plate.
2. Take one half of a hen, cut-side down, and overlap it on the squash only slightly.
3. Drizzle the hen only with some gravy.
4. Garnish the hen with a sprinkle of scallions. Sprinkle a few sliced almonds over the spaghetti squash.
* If you don't have pumpkin spice, you can use 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg, and 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon, a dash of ground cloves, and a dash of ground dried ginger combined.
Wine recommendation: I recommend a dry pinot noir, or a dry chardonnay to accompany this dish.