People often are confused on what the difference is between a Cornish game hen and a small chicken. Actually, the Cornish hen is a cross breed of a Cornish hen and Plymouth or White Rock chicken. It may be a different breed than a regular chicken but it is in fact a small chicken, sometimes called in French a poussin. They usually weight about 1 ½ pounds. I often roast these small birds alongside cabbage and apples in the cold weather. For warm weather I like to cook them on the grill to usher in the beginning of the summer grilling season. This recipe, with grilled peaches served alongside, receives repeated requests from friends and family.
These small birds are not particularly flavorful so the marinade is a big taste enhancer. Butterflying the birds and then flattening them allows the birds to cook quickly and evenly. It’s best to use a heavy weight on top, while grilling, to keep the birds flattened. It’s easy to butterfly the hens but feel free to ask your butcher to do it for you, making sure he takes out the backbone.
The marinade does double duty as both a marinade and the foundation for the peach glaze. I use Kerns nectar, which is in an 11-½ ounce container. You will need the whole can here for both the marinade and the glaze. You’ll notice that the hens are grilled completely on both sides before you brush on the glaze so that they will not burn. The grilled peaches are a nice accent to the slightly sweet and tart hens.
You can serve these whole, but I prefer to cut them in half with poultry shears and overlap them on a platter with the peaches surrounding them. You can also double this recipe. If you aren’t a fan of peaches you can substitute apricot nectar and apricot halves. The reason this recipe says it serves 2 to 4 is because some people will only want a half while others may enjoy a whole hen. Serve these hens with rice, pasta or farro. A chilled Spanish Albino or Italian Pinot Grigio is the beverage to serve with this menu. A chilled rose is another good choice.
Grilled Cornish Hens with Peach Glaze and Grilled Peaches
Serves 2 to 4
2 Cornish game hens (about 1- 1/2 pounds), each
1/3 cup olive oil
1/3 cup lemon juice
Zest of 1 lemon
1 medium shallot, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup peach nectar, I use Kerns
Coarse ground black pepper, to taste
1 ¼ teaspoons favorite seasoning salt
7 ½ ounces peach nectar, I use Kerns
2 small peaches, pitted and halved
Mint leaves, for garnish
- Butterfly the hens by cutting out the backbone. Turn the birds skin side down and use kitchen shears to cut out their backbones. Use your hands to flatten the birds so they will cook evenly on the grill. (You can ask your butcher to do this for you.)
- In a medium bowl combine all marinade ingredients. Divide marinade in half, reserving half of the mixture for the glaze to baste hens.
- Place hens in a large lock-top plastic bag. Flatten them in the bag. Pour half of the marinade (about ¾ cup) over the hens. Release excess air from bag and seal. Move marinade around so it coats the hens evenly. Refrigerate and allow hens to marinate for 2 to 8 hours.
- For the glaze: Place the nectar in a small saucepan on medium–high heat. Reduce the mixture to a glaze consistency, about 5 minutes. Add the remaining marinade to the glaze and mix to blend. Reserve.
- Heat the grill for medium-high heat grilling. Remove hens from marinade and place, skin side up, on the grill. Flatten with a heavy brick covered in foil or a heavy press. Grill for about 12 minutes, or until golden brown. Turn the hens over, skin side down, flatten with the heavy brick or heavy utensil and grill another 10 to 12 minutes or until hens are golden brown. Turn hens back over and brush with the glaze on both sides. Finish grilling when the skin is brown and crisp.
- While the hens are finishing on the grill brush the flat-sides of the peach halves with remaining glaze and grill flat side down for about 5 minutes or until the peaches have grill marks and are hot.
- Place the hens on a cutting board and let rest 5 minutes. Cut each hen in half and then overlap the halves on a platter. Arrange the peaches around the side, garnish with mint leaves and serve.
By: Diane Rossen Worthington