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 The Rock Cornish Game Hen

A Rock Cornish Game Hen makes the perfect dish for two. 

But it is not a “game” hen.  It's a chicken hen! 

The USDA defines the Rock Cornish Game Hen as:  “ . . .a young, immature chicken (usually 5-6 weeks of age), weighing not more than 2 pounds (ready-to-cook), which was prepared [sic] from a Cornish chicken crossed with another breed of chicken.” Donald Tyson, the founder of Tyson Foods created the Rock Cornish Game Hen in 1965 as an upscale poultry product, now described by USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) as a “small broiler-fryer . . . usually stuffed and roasted whole.”

Game hens are too small to be cut into pieces, so any recipe you favor for whole or halved chicken will work fine.  They cook quickly.  Roasting time, at 350F, is 50 to 60 minutes or 10 minutes less on the barbecue grill, using the indirect method.  Contrast these times to 75 to 90 minutes for a 3-4 pound whole broiler fryer or 120 to 155 minutes for a big 5-7 pound whole roasting hen—all times according to the FSIS—all times less if the bird is halved. 

I prefer to cut Rock Cornish Game hens in half, not only when cooking for two, but also when preparing hens for a crowd.  Reasons:  They are too big for one person to eat when served with veggies and a starch, and they are too small to be carved.   Halving a game hen is quite easy in that the bones are soft:  First, with a sharp knife, remove the last joint of each wing and remove the ‘pope’s nose.’ Then place the bird on its back with the opening facing you.  With a poultry shears or with a sharp cleaver, cut through the breast at the center.  Spread open the cavity and then cut along one side of the backbone to separate the halves.  Finally cut along the other side of the backbone.  This leaves you with three pieces—two game hen halves and the backbone.  Discard the backbone or save it for stock.

For a crowd, The Little Woman's Roasted Game Hens Mediterranean is a wonderful dish.  For every day cooking for two, I often dry rub the bird with salt and pepper or marinate the halves with Lea & Perrins White Wine Worcestershire Sauce.  Sometimes I use Scott's Barbecue Sauce or a coat of a Patak sauce mixed with yogurt and a little olive oil. 

Whether roasted or grilled, these birds tend to stay moist.  Before serving, make the effort to crisp the skin either over direct fire on the grill or under the broiler.  Either way takes some attention to avoid burning.  It's worth the risk, both for appearance and to further reduce the fat content of the skin.


 

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