Sunday, February 13, 2011

Cornish Hens with Cranberry Paste

Cornish Hens with Cranberry Paste
Happy almost-Valentine's Day! In honor of that hallmark holiday to commemorate love, which often involves sharing rich, pink (or red) food, I offer to you a two-part post based on last night's dinner, which consisted of Cornish Hens with Cranberry Paste for me and Tofu with Cranberry Paste for the Vegetarian. I'll share the recipe for the hens now and the tofu another day. First, though, a brief disclaimer--while the vegetarian does not eat meat (hence his title), there is what I've fondly dubbed "the chicken broth clause". This means that it is to the texture of flesh he protests, not the flavor, humane methods, etc. So I can cook his tofu in the same pan as my Cornish hens and, even, use the pan drippings (as well as some chicken stock) to make the sauce.

The inspiration for this dish came from a desire to cook with nuts. As I've been making our meals more and more vegetarian, I've been very interested in exploring alternative forms of protein--particularly nuts. However, since I'm certainly not a true vegetarian yet, I realized that I was craving meat. So I decided to incorporate meat and nuts (for an extra shot of protein) into our meal. I found a recipe for Cornish Hens with Pistachio Paste. But I wanted the flavors of the hens and the tofu to shine more. In honor of Valentine's Day (and because I love the combination of roast poultry with fruit), I decided to create a sauce with cranberries instead. We served this with Cinnamon Sweet Potato Slices. I enjoyed some Madeira, while the vegetarian treated himself to a bottle of Delirium Tremens. Madeira is a sweeter wine (like port) and usually served with dessert, but, because of the fruit in the sauce and the cinnamon in the sweet potatoes it came out very well. Enjoy (for Valentine's Day or any other)!

Cornish Hens with Cranberry Paste

  • 1/2 + 1/4 cup pistachio nuts, crushed
  • 2 (1-pound) Cornish game hens
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper, freshly ground
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 6 shallots, sliced
  • 2 tablespoons thyme leaves, fresh
  • 1 1/2 cups chicken stock
  • 6 ounces cranberries, frozen
  • 4 leaves basil
Place hens on a cutting board and remove backbone and trim off any excess fat or skin. Discard or save for stock. Press hens flat with back of hand. With your fingers, separate skin from meat. Stuff 1/4 cup pistachios under the skin of each bird. Massage to distribute nuts evenly. Salt and pepper both sides.

Preheat oven to 350 F. Heat olive oil in a large saute pan over medium heat. Sear hens, breast-down and 
Cornish Hens ready for the oven
splayed open, for 5 minutes. Remove and place in a roasting pan, on a roasting rack, breast up. When oven is heated, place hens into oven and cook 30 minutes.

While hens are cooking, add shallots to pan and saute 6 minutes, mixing shallots well with the drippings from the hens. Stir in thyme, then deglaze with chicken stock, using a wooden spoon to get all the good bits (nuts and hen drippings) from the pan. Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly.

Cranberry Paste
In a food processor, combine remaining 1/4 cup pistachios, cranberries and basil. Add shallots and pan drippings. Pulse until all is a uniform texture.

Serve hens with two healthy tablespoonfuls of paste. You will have plenty left over!

Links to other cranberry Cornish hens noshes:

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