When I saw Cornish game hens on sale, 2 for $5.69, just a few days after seeing Ina make them for Jeffrey, I knew it was a sign. I’d never before made anything that required a cavity to be emptied, and it seemed clear that I could no longer shy away from doing so. I bought the hens.
Ina’s were stuffed with cornbread stuffing, so that’s how I made mine. However—and it pains me to say this, but in the interest of full disclosure I must—the reviews on Ina’s recipe said that the stuffing was a bit bland (I’m sorry, Ina!), so I made mine my own way. I pretty much followed Rachael’s method, which I used previously to make Thanksgiving stuffing, but I substituted andouille for prosciutto. I’ve been adding andouille to everything lately—I can’t get enough.
I served the hens and stuffing with brown butter and lemon
For the Cornish hens, I followed Ina’s recipe for everything except the cooking time. Thirty minutes for a bone-in stuffed bird sounded a little short to me, and plus I had the Brussels sprouts roasting at the same time. I did mine for 45 minutes at 425 degrees and they were perfect.
1 package cornbread mix (8.5 oz.) (plus 1 egg and 1/3 cup milk, or whatever your mix calls for)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 link andouille sausage, casing removed
1 yellow onion, chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
10 sprigs thyme
4 cloves garlic, minced
½ cup chicken stock
salt and pepper
Prepare cornbread according to package directions. Set aside.
Heat olive oil in skillet over medium heat. Crumble sausage into skillet, tearing into small pieces with your fingers. When sausage begins to brown, add onion. Cook until onion begins to become translucent, then add celery and thyme sprigs. Season with salt and pepper.
When sausage is fully cooked and vegetables are tender, add garlic, cook for one minute, then crumble in cornbread. Add chicken stock and stir to coat cornbread, scraping up any bits stuck to the pan as you do so. Use whatever amount of stock you need to deglaze pan and slightly moisten cornbread. The stuffing will become moister as it cooks in the oven. Remove thyme sprigs, and taste and adjust seasoning if necessary.
I stuck to Fine Cooking's recipe for these. I roasted the sprouts along with the hens and took them out after 30 minutes. While they were in the oven, I prepared the dressing in a sauté pan on the stove top and kept it warm over low heat. I left out the lemon juice and zest and saved those to add at the last minute (lemon can become bitter if it cooks too long). When the sprouts were done roasting I removed them from the oven, added them to the dressing in the pan, tossed them to coat, and kept them covered over low heat until the hens were ready.
Overall, this was a nice meal. However, I do think I now understand why something like a Cornish hen is usually saved for special meals. It’s not because they’re expensive—they’re cheaper than steak. It’s not because they’re difficult to prepare—they were super easy. The reason—or, at least, the reason that I’ll save them for special meals—lies in the actual eating of them. One must remove the stuffing from the cavity, taking care not to fling any off the plate, push it to the side to make space for getting at the meat itself, which requires maneuvering around skin and bone and using a knife to cut pieces free from the body, and generally remain poised with both fork and knife throughout the meal, working, working, working at the little bird. And, if you haven’t guessed it by now, I am a very lazy eater. I prefer to curl up on the couch, nestle a bowl of something good against my chest, and shovel it in by the forkful with my one free hand. So, though I’m sure the Cornish hen and I will meet again, it may not be until the next holiday season.