Game Birds Paradis

It’s named not for the bayou town on US 90, but for the paradise to which you are supposed to be lifted by this dish. That’s what they told me at Antoine’s, where this was the standard house treatment of squab in the early 1970s. Squab was out of vogue then, though, and the sauce soon moved to chicken. Now that squab is available (if only occasionally) and liked by lots of people, it would be nice for the old dish to return.

Failing that, the sauce would work with almost any bird–particularly those with dark meat. Duck or quail would be good, as would leg quarters of chicken. Cornish game hens and pheasant if you can get it. The recipe calls for pepper jelly, but taste it first: it shouldn’t be lip-blistering hot. If very hot is all you have, substitute something like apple jelly for half of it.

Cornish hen Paradis.

Cornish hen Paradis.

  • 4 Cornish game hens
  • 1 apple, cut into eighths
  • 1 orange, cut into eighths
  • 2 Tbs. Creole seasoning
  • 2 tsp. salt
  • Sauce:
  • 1/4 cup finely-chopped sweet onions
  • 1/2 stick butter
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 1 cup tawny port
  • 2 cups strong duck, turkey, or chicken stock
  • 1 Tbs. pepper jelly (not too spicy!)
  • About 20 red seedless grapes, cut in half
  • 1/2 tsp. salt

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

1. Stuff the cavities of the Cornish hens with the apple and orange sections. Season with Creole seasoning and salt. Place on a roasting pan, breast side down, and put in the oven. Immediately lower the oven temperature to 350. Roast for 45 minutes, then turn up the heat to 425 for a final five minutes. The internal temperature should be about 175 on a meat thermometer shoved in the thigh.

2. While the birds are in the oven, make the sauce. In a saucepan over medium-low heat, cook the onions in 1 Tbs, butter, stirring often, until they become light brown uniformly.

3. Add the butter and flour, and make a blond roux.

4. Whisk in the tawny port. Bring it to a boil and hold it there, whisking often, until the liquid is reduced by half.

5. Add the stock and bring to a boil. Dissolve the pepper jelly into the sauce, then strain.

6. Return the sauce to a very light simmer, and add the grapes. Check seasonings and add salt and pepper as needed.

7. Place a whole roasted Cornish hen on each dinner plate, and serve the sauce around it.

Serves four.

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