DIFFERENT HENS IN FAMILIAR PLACES
Chilly weather and the beautiful change of colors of North Georgia in November, the Georgia-Georgia Tech game, and of course, Thanksgiving. Just thinking about the season makes me hungry. It is a favorite for us all, and normally we gather with our extended families around the traditional 15-pound turkey and a dozen side dishes. But what if there is just the two of you, or a turkey isn’t what you want this time around, and you want to save the big bird for Christmas. Well, you have a few choices for your poultry needs and they are poulet rouge (from Plow Point Farms), duck, goose, chicken, turkey, pigeoneaux, dove, quail, pheasant, and Rock Cornish game hens. We will be preparing the game hen. The recipe will work just as well with any of the other birds, but there is something of a guilty pleasure in having a whole bird of your own on the plate. Choose your sides from whatever is looking the best in the produce section.
(If your mood is towards one whole bird to split for two then use a poulet rouge hen from Plow Point Farms in Oconee County. The BEST chickens I have ever eaten. )
Tyson Farms created the Rock Cornish game hens we normally see in the grocery store in the middle 1960’s. The original Cornish game hen is from the land of King Lear, Cornwall, England. They are quite affordable and just the thing if you want treat yourself to something special for dinner without the high cost, hours of basting, or endless leftovers hanging out in your refrigerator.
Poulet rouge, aka red hen of the piedmont and in our case, of Oconee county, Georgia. This breed of chicken is longer, meatier without being fatty but remaining juicy at any stage, be it fresh and roasted to 165 degrees internal temperature on the thigh bone, or as leftovers. The flavor is very smooth, texture is meaty yet juicy. I am amazed by this perfect chicken in any preparation. I have mostly approached it with the cuisine of my past, Haute Cuisine, French Continental and whether stuffed under the skin with herb butter or chevre and roasted; boned and folded around shiitake mushrooms, garlic and feta cheese; buttermilk marinade and Southern fried; cut into six pieces and roasted with a light golden stock; Thanksgiving style roasted whole with carrots, turnips, small onions, garlic and red potatoes, it does not matter because any way it is prepared it is the best chicken you will ever eat. Cornish game hens and poulet rouge are definitely my two go-to birds when I have a need for chicken…and that’s a lot!
You will find adobo seasoning in the Mexican section at your grocery store. Cardamom is usually used in sweet pastries, but in this case it is a great compliment in bringing together the spice of the adobo and the deep flavors of black strap molasses. If you can find it, black cardamom adds a very unique Indian flavor to your dish. What you end up with is a combination of bright and deep flavors, with each taste complimenting the other.
(Please try out all of the choices that we have for sweet flavors, from granulated white sugar to the different honeys, molasses, palm sugar, turbinado, maple syrups, and grades of sugar, including slices of raw sugar cane. Although most sugars are not considered healthy, black strap molasses is truly good for you as it is converted into energy and is not stored as fat in your body. Take a cup of wild flower honey and add orange, lemon and lime skins (no white), 1 stick of cinnamon and one piece star anise. Mix and cover. Store in cabinet for three days. Honey syrup to live for!)
ADOBO AND PLUM GAME HENS
2 1 1/4 pound each, Cornish game hens
Thaw them out in your refrigerator. This will take a day or two, but don’t rush it. Remove neck and giblets from cavity. Rinse in cold water. Pat dry with paper towel.
2 tablespoons Adobo seasoning
1 tablespoon ground cardamom
1/3 cup Molasses
1/4 cup Light soy sauce
Rub the season mix half of it over the skin and inside the cavity of the hens. Refrigerate overnight. Save the rest of the seasoning for when you cook them.
2 stalks celery, diced
1 medium yellow onion, diced
8 purple plums, peel and remove the stones
2 teabags Darjeeling tea, remove tea from bags
1/3 cup dry bread crumbs
1/4 cup warm water to bind the stuffing
(If you cannot find fresh plums, don’t be ashamed to use canned or dried. It’s ok to substitute with nectarines, apricots, lychee, rambutan, jackfruit, peaches or even apples and pears.)
Mix the stuffing in a small bowl. Now fill the cavity of each hen with the stuffing mix. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Rub the rest of the seasoning on the hens. Roast in small roasting pan for one hour.
There are two ways to check for doneness. The first is with your trusty thermometer, which will register 180 degrees, the second is to insert the tip of a boning knife into the section between the thigh and breast, the juices of the bird will run clear. If the liquid is cloudy then it is not done. Do both and you will see how it works. The skin is going to be dark, so don’t think that you have burned your dinner, remember, we seasoned with molasses and soy. Let the birds rest for 10 minutes after you take them out of the oven before you have your dinner. This allows the juices to settle and the meat to tighten back up after the cooking. They will slice easier, and will taste better if you allow this resting time.
CORNISH HEN MOLE (pronounced MO-Lay)
A mole is a very popular central Mexico and Central American dish and style of cooking. It involves a clay pot. That’s easy. Then it uses chocolate, chilies, aromatic spices, tomato, herbs, nuts, garlic and dried apricots or other dried fruits to balance the heat. Mole is one of the more complicated sauces/dishes to prepare and requires a bold hand with the seasonings and a gentle method of cooking. Think of it in terms of Thai curries, Vietnamese soups, French cassoulet, or Spanish paella and you’ll get an idea of how serious this dish is to the Oaxacan cooks of central Mexican. As you may have noticed, chocolate is not just a dessert or drink; chocolate can be used throughout a meal as a garnish and central ingredient to every course. Chocolate is bitter, sweet, dry, moist, bittersweet and even hot, but never white, as white chocolate has no chocolate and is made with coconut and palm sugars.
We are using Cornish hen because it is small, tasty, and tender, doesn’t take forever to cook, will fill up with the mole flavors and not fill you up. And because I think that Cornish game hens taste great and are an easy small entrée for two to share in a meal of several courses.
Toast the nuts/seeds with the spices before adding to the mix. Do this in a pan in a 475~ oven for ten minutes. Do not be afraid of the list of ingredients. You can use garam masala as your base and go from there if you like, or buy a premade mole as your base and season from that as a starting point.
¼ cup duck fat or olive oil
1-tablespoon chipotle, chopped
2 tablespoons poblano, diced
2 tablespoons onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
½ cup tomato, chopped, seeded
1/3 cup dried cherries, chopped
1/3-cup mixed peanuts and cashews, toasted
2 tablespoons sesame seeds, toasted
½ teaspoon cloves, toasted
½ teaspoon cinnamon, toasted
½ teaspoon ginger, toasted
1-teaspoon allspice, toasted
2 tablespoons dried Oregano
1/3 cup fresh Cilantro, chopped
¼ cup fresh Parsley, chopped
1 cup unsweetened Chocolate
½ cup chicken stock
¼ cup Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon sea salt
The mole takes one hour of cooking on the stove for the sauce to reach the correct flavor and consistency.
I prefer a large iron skillet to cook this part of the dish. If you do not have one then use a stainless steel thick, large high sided pan, not a soup pot. Use a large wooden spoon for the stirring. Heat the duck fat, lard or oil on medium high heat in the pan, and add the peppers and onions. Cook until they are soft. Add the garlic and tomato and cook on medium low heat for fifteen minutes. Add the toasted nuts and herbs and stir. Add the fresh herbs, stir. Cook for fifteen minutes. Add the chocolate and stir, turn up the heat to medium and keep stirring for five minutes. Add chicken stock and Worcestershire, stir and turn heat to low. Let simmer uncovered on low for about fifteen more minutes. You will need to stir it from time to time to keep it from splattering or sticking to the pan. It will be thick but still liquid. If it is too thick then add more chicken stock.
Remove from heat and let cool. Overnight is fine or you can mix it with the hen and immediately cook in the oven.
The mole is enough for two hens. Thoroughly wash the hens in cold water and pat dry with paper towel. Did you remove the giblet bag from inside the cavity? Cut the bird into six pieces.
Put the pieces into a large bowl and mix with the mole. Put in heavy duty roasting pan or clay pot. Preheat oven to 375~ and cook for one hour.
You can also add the cut up hens to the mole sauce as it cooks and simmer it this way for thirty minutes right in the sauce and it will be very tender and spicy. It’s just that the way in the pan requires constant attention and in the oven you can just let the oven do the work while you enjoy the other courses of your fine Valentine’s dinner.
Divide between two plates. Squeeze a half lime over the dishes to add an extra lift to the flavors. A good side would be quinoa or wild rice. Divide an apple, Asian pear or a bunch of grapes to share with this as well. Fruit and Chocolate
POULET ROUGE TRADITIONAL
If you are feeling more traditionally inclined and want to make your hens taste like the bird of the last 25 years then but better:
2 ounces butter
½ teaspoon dried thyme
4 cloves garlic
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon poultry seasoning (ground sage and bay leaves)
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
Crush ingredients in your spice grinder or with a mortar and pestle. Rub under the skin.
1 stalk celery, fine dice
½ medium white onion, fine dice
2 cups coarse Italian bread crumbs
1/3 cup walnuts, chopped
1//4 cup dried cranberries
1 teaspoon coarse salt
½ teaspoon coarse black pepper
2 egg yolks
Combine and divide, stuff into the cavity of the bird.
6 small red potatoes
1 large turnip, rough chopped
2 cups acorn squash, peeled, seeded and rough chopped
1 leek, washed and diced up to the light green stalk
4 cippolinni onions, peeled and stems removed
2 stalks celery, diced
1 cup very rich chicken stock
Roast 45 minutes at 425 degrees. Baste every 15 minutes. Turn the oven to 350 degrees and cook for 30 minutes. It really is that easy.
Collards and field peas go great with this way of cooking the poulet rouge.
Early evening opening into a November sky
Of fog brightened stars and shadowed trees,
Wicker chairs creaking as we lean back and yawn,
Sharing sweet warm tea and Anjou pears.
Coltrane’s Meditation on the stereo,
It flows and rises.
Dark eyes, brown and gold, sea deep,
Mahogany-black hair, thin strands
Moving along with the autumn song
Of the wind and the birds in our garden.
It’s so peaceful here, after dinner,
Relaxed and easy, where this is the wish:
The working world slips away and it’s just us,
Here on the back porch, feeling the night,
Feeling it all wrap around us
So vibrant and crisp,
Alive with thanksgiving,
With each other.