The Old Chef’s Cornish Hen
The Old Chef is a guy I met in the early 1970s at a big-deal gourmet society dinner. I remember what he looked like (particularly that he wore a medallion around his neck), but not his name. He worked in a French Quarter hotel (I can’t remember which one) for about a year then disappeared. At this dinner, he made doctrinaire pronouncements about almost every food. He was pompous, but I was in my twenties, and was impressed.
One of his dogmas was that Cornish hen was meant to be cooked with bacon, and without bacon it could be nothing. His recipe called for wrapping the bird completely in bacon, which I think is going a little overboard. But he was onto something, and here’s my approach to his idea, using half the amount of bacon. This recipe is second only to smoking as my favorite recipe for these little chickens.
To pull this off, you need an ovenproof large saucepan with a cover. If it’s a good-looking pot, you can take it out of the oven and bring it right into the dining room, removing the cover in front of the guests. It smells wonderful.
- 4 Cornish hens
- Peel of one orange, cut coarsely
- 3 tart apples, peeled and cut into pieces
- 10 slices smoky bacon
- 2 sticks butter
- 2 cups Gewurztraminer
- 4 sprigs fresh thyme
- 1 whole French shallot, chopped
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
1. The day before, thaw the hens and brine them overnight in a solution of a cup of salt in a gallon of water. A food storage bag works well. Store the bags in the refrigerator during the brining process.
2. When ready to start cooking, dump the salt water and rinse the hens very well inside and out. Pat dry. Divide the orange peel and apples and stuff the cavity with them. Season the hens with salt and coarsely-ground black pepper.
3. In a saucepan big enough to fit all the birds, for which you have a tight-fitting cover, fry four slices of bacon with the butter until crisp. Place the hens in the pot and brown them all around.
4. Roll the hens breast side up. Sprinkle in the chopped shallot and insert the thyme sprigs between the birds. Also add any leftover pieces of apple. Pour in the wine around the birds. Season the birds with salt and pepper or Creole seasoning. Cover the birds with the remaining six slices of bacon.
4. Fit the cover onto the pot, and put it into the preheated oven at 375 degrees for an hour and twenty minutes. Open the pot where your diners can smell the aromas. Remove the hens with tongs, allowing the liquids to drain briefly, and place one on each plate, with a slice of bacon draped over it.