I haven’t cooked Cornish Hens in a long time. A REALLY long time. I used to cook them when I was a little girl and wanted to have an ‘elegant’ dinner party in the back yard complete with a bottle of sparkly grape juice - but I have cooked them at times more recent than that.
Sometimes there will be ingredients or dishes that sort of fall by the wayside that end up being a really great idea when it finally pops back into your head again - and you think, ‘Why the hell has this fallen off my radar?’ I used to keep a few of the little birds in the freezer all of the time when I lived alone. Though please note that these odd shaped rock solid frozen projectiles have been known to very easily shoot out of the freezer while you are rooting around for something else (like that frozen bottle of Hanger One) and intentionally aim itself at bare feet with the malicious intent of breaking toes. True story. Maybe that is why I haven’t cooked them in a while. Hmm.
At this time, my tiny freezer is located in the lower extremity of my refrigerator, so toe safety was not an issue.
What could be a more perfect dinner? I mean you get your OWN bird - it’s the personal pan pizza of the chicken world. But it’s also awesome for significant others and friends. EVERYBODY gets their own little chicken. (Embarrassingly enough, I have been known to do some serious damage to a REGULAR size chicken all on my own at very quick speed. Not four whole fried chickens and a coke bad, but still. Luckily no one has ever recorded this.)
This dinner was a rif on Cornish hens with preserved lemons and olives. I currently don’t have any preserved lemons in the pantry, which is ridiculous because it is such an easy thing to make. Lemons. Salt. Jars. Note to self: preserve some freaking lemons to have on hand. I do have some preserved limes, but I use a pickling spice when I make those, so the flavor profile was not exactly what I had in mind. I like to snack on them from time to time, and they make a kick ass cocktail ingredient.
As for the meal at hand - I was cooking 2 birds, but you could expand to accommodate however many you need (depending on your oven size that is).
Preheat oven to 375º.
• 1 Large onion sliced into medium sized chunks
• 5 or 6 Artichoke hearts (I just like them in this, but you can leave them out)
• Large handful of big green olives - like Cerignolas
• Small handful of cherry tomatoes (Again, I just like the addition)
• 1 Lemon sliced into thin rings
• 3-4 Cloves of garlic minced
• Pinch of cumin seeds
Add all ingredients to the bottom of a shallow pan, dish, whatever. Drizzle with olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Toss to coat and mix.
Take Cornish hens that have been thawed, rinsed and patted dry. Place a chunk of onion, a lemon slice, and a little garlic into the cavity. Salt and pepper, and sprinkle with cumin seeds. Place BREAST SIDE DOWN on top of the vegetables. Cornish hens can get really dry, so I get around this by cooking them breast side down for the first half hour to 45 minutes. Drizzle with olive oil. Put into the oven.
After the initial roasting time, take the little guys out of the oven and carefully flip them over. Drizzle with a little more olive oil and return to the oven for another 30-45 minutes. I find that a lot of people tend to under roast as opposed to over roasting. I know that there is the fear of drying the meat out, but you still want to cook it long enough for fat to render and the cartilage and tendons to start breaking down. Not to mention having a golden crispy skin.
After the flip I cooked a rice and quinoa blend with onions, garlic and a really healthy amount of zaatar. When the birds came out to rest I dressed some arugula with lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper.
I made a ring of the tart greens and bed of the rice mixture in the middle for the golden birds to rest on - spooning the soft onions, tomatoes, olives and artichokes around the side, and pouring the jus over the top. I love how the flavor of the olives mellows and the meat is soft and succulent (olive, not hen - though they get nice and luscious too).
Since this is a Moroccan-y meal, I give myself permission to eat with my hands. Though i kind of tend to do this anyway - but that’s my excuse.
You really should think about cooking some Cornish hens. Just watch your toes.