Story and images by Karyl Henry, karylskulinarykrusade.com
Like many other parts of my life, I’ve gone through several Thanksgiving evolutions. Growing up, we spent every Thanksgiving at a family friend’s home. Dinner was the traditional huge turkey and more sides and desserts than any one person could ever eat. All of the adults are from Trinidad and had grown up together, so the group of us kids became friends. I remember the house being absolutely full of people, with lots of laughter and stories throughout the afternoon. Once I got to college we started spending the holiday at my uncle’s house in upstate NY for a small family gathering. For a couple of years when my mom went all the way to Canada, my dad and I stayed home and went out to eat instead of cooking.
Once I moved to Oklahoma, I spent nearly every Thanksgiving at my house. OSU has a home football game the Saturday after Thanksgiving every other year, so I couldn’t go back to Maryland. Even when there is no home game, I thoroughly enjoy spending the day at home. Yes, I get lots of invitations from friends, but accepting would mean I’d have to take a shower and get out of my PJs.
The first time I was on my own for Thanksgiving, I had no clue what to make. I definitely didn’t want a whole turkey, because I would only eat the dark meat. And besides, I couldn’t find any turkey smaller than about 5lbs. I considered steak, but that was way too far off the Thanksgiving scale. After walking around the meat section of the grocery store, I came across Cornish game hens. I had never made one before, but I knew it couldn’t be hard.
Despite the name, Cornish game hen is not a game bird. Rather, it is a broiler chicken. Most Cornish game hens weigh about 2lbs (including bones), so it’s perfect for dinner for 2 or a couple of meals for one.
My mom taught me to cook, and she generously seasons chicken…salt, pepper, herbs, onion, garlic, and Trinidad green seasoning. I followed her lead and used all of that, plus a combination of soy sauce, Worchestershire sauce, and a gourmet cooking sauce. So I did the same thing with my Cornish game hens. The result was delicious.
Recently, I decided to go a little bit different route and make a roasted Cornish game hen. I’ll be honest, I did it because I was out of green seasoning. I can only find it in specialty ethnic shops, and unfortunately none of those exist in Stillwater. But it gave me the opportunity to try something new.
This Roasted Cornish Game Hen is so delicious, and the meat is incredibly tender and juicy. Of course I still seasoned all sides generously with salt & pepper. I put a few whole garlic cloves, plus sprigs of oregano and thyme, inside the cavity. Sage or rosemary would be great as well, or even a combination of all of them. I also smeared softened butter on all sides of the bird. I used imitation butter for years, but recently switched to real butter from the Amish market. Yes, it has a few more calories, but it is all natural, has tons more flavor, and you can use less and get the same impact. Besides, the butter browns the skin, and it develops a nice crispy crust. The next day I ate a few pieces of the breast, and was shocked at how tender it was.
Roasted vegetables aren’t a traditional Thanksgiving side dish, but they work really well with this recipe. Besides, the vegetables impart even more flavor to the bird. To prevent anything from burning in the pan, I use broth and dry white wine. A few months ago I learned to make homemade vegetable broth, and I haven’t looked back. Homemade broth has so much more flavor than the stuff in the can or the box. The alcohol in the wine cooks out, leaving nothing but flavor. And the broth and wine creates a beautiful gravy to pour over the bird at the end.
I’ve never been a fan of brussel sprouts, but the guy at the grocery store convinced me to try them. I also used carrots and yellow onions. You can use your favorite vegetables, but just make sure to use vegetables that will hold up for an hour in the oven. I seasoned the vegetables with salt, pepper, garlic powder and onion powder. The vegetables all caramelized beautifully, and absorbed the flavor of the seasonings, broth and wine. I tried a bite of the brussel sprouts first, just in case…they were amazing.
Roasting is now my favorite way to prepare Cornish game hen. I can be versatile with how I prepare it, I can mix up the vegetables, and it’s definitely not limited to just Thanksgiving.
Roasted Cornish Game Hen from karylskulinarykrusade.com
1 Cornish game hen
3 teaspoons salt
3 teaspoons fresh-ground pepper
4 cloves raw garlic, peeled and crushed
2 sprigs fresh oregano
2 sprigs fresh thyme
1 tablespoon butter, softened
2 carrots, whole
1 small onion
8 brussel sprouts
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 ½ cups homemade vegetable broth
½ cup dry white wine
Preheat oven to 400 degrees
Remove the Cornish game hen from packaging. Rinse hen and make sure to pour out excess juice from the cavity.
Season all sides with 2 teaspoons each salt & pepper. Smear all sides with butter. Put garlic and herbs into the cavity.
Peel the carrots, cut into 2-3” length pieces. You want all the pieces to be about the same size. Cut brussel sprouts in half lengthwise; if they sprouts are larger, you can cut them into fourths. The key is for them all to be about the same size. Peel onion, cut lengthwise in half and then cut each piece into half until you get 6 chunks.
Season vegetables with salt, pepper, onion powder, and garlic powder.
Put vegetables into a roasting pan and add 1 cup of broth. Put Cornish game hen on top of the vegetables and put roasting pan into oven on the top rack.
Cook for 30 minutes. Add remaining broth, plus white wine. Stir vegetables.
Cook for another 20 minutes. Remove roasting pan from the oven. Remove the bird and the vegetables from the roasting pan, set aside, and cover loosely with aluminum foil to rest for 5 minutes.
If needed, add a little more broth to the roasting pan and cook over medium heat while food rests. OPTIONAL: To thicken the liquid, add a little bit of flour.
To serve, place bird and vegetables on a platter and pour liquid over the bird.