Monday, June 22, 2009

162. Moroccan-Style Roast Cornish Hens with Vegetables (p. 392)

I don't know about you, but I usually associate Cornish hens with fussy, fancy, dainty dinners. Well, this Moroccan-inspired recipe ain't that. This is a bold, fragrant, hearty and flavorful meal that you'll love. I know that I did.

First, I made the marinade. I ground some caraway seeds in my electric spice grinder (The Book says you can crush them with a rolling pin or a heavy knife, too.) Then I mashed the caraway seeds into a paste with some minced garlic. I whisked the garlic-caraway paste together with some honey, lemon juice, olive oil, lots of paprika and even more cumin, some ginger, cinnamon, cayenne and black pepper.

I divided the marinade and tossed half of it with some zucchini, turnips, red pepper, butternut squash and onions, all cut up into chunks. I spread the veggies out into a roasting pan and set it aside for a while.

Then I rinsed and patted dry three 1 1/2 pound Cornish hens. (The Book calls for four hens to serve eight. I decided to make six servings for dinner two nights in a row and some leftovers for lunch.) Using some kitchen shears, and with much crunching of bones, I cut the backbones out of the hens and then cut the hens in half. After plunging live lobsters into boiling water, cutting small birds in half with scissors was nothing. (The Project is not for the faint of heart.) I coated the hen halves with the rest of the marinade and arranged them on top of the vegetables.

The Book says to cover the pan tightly with foil and roast for an hour. It was a really nice day out, so as soon as the birds went into the oven, my wife and I took my son out for a walk around the neighborhood. When we came back about a half hour later, I was pleased to see that the house hadn't burned down, but I was a little bit confused by the large can of tomatoes and the carton of chicken broth on the counter. Now, what did I buy those for? D'oh, I was supposed to stir them in with the vegetables before the hens went on top. So, the roasting pan came out of the oven, the hens went onto a baking sheet, and the tomatoes and broth were mixed into the vegetables. Better a half-hour late than never. Hens back into the roasting pan, roasting pan back in the oven. After an hour of covered roasting, I took the foil off and put the pan back into the oven for about another half hour.

This is a great dish. It looks great, it smells great and, even in spite of my mistake, it tastes amazing. First, the aroma. There is a lot of spice in this dish. The caraway, cumin, cinnamon and ginger fills the house with such a warm, inviting scent that you just know you're about to eat something delicious. And then there's the look of this dish. It's just gorgeous. The hens' skin is crispy and brown and the vegetables are a great blend of vibrant reds, oranges and greens. Finally, there's the taste. Amazing. The hens were moist and tasty, and the vegetables were tender and flavorful. The sauce could have been a bit thicker, but that was probably my fault because of the delayed addition of the tomatoes and broth.

The Book says to serve this over couscous. That would have been excellent, but rice (gluten free) worked just as well as "a vehicle for the flavorful broth." This would be a perfect dish for company. It'll make your guests rave, but it's pretty easy to make and most of the work can be done ahead of time. (The leftovers were tasty, too.) This is one of my favorites so far.

Date Cooked: June 6, 2009
Degree of Difficulty: Medium
Rating: A

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