August 2, 2012

Brining and Roasting A Cornish Game Hen

I did a fun/crazy thing this year and volunteered to host Thanksgiving for my parents. Now you're probably thinking, "well, so what? It's August". The thing is- I have this just one teeny, tiny detail: I've never cooked a turkey before. I should have thought of that perhaps before offering, but here we are.

So, in the hopes that I won't ruin Thanksgiving, I've decided to start learning how to cook a whole bird that doesn't turn out dry and leathery. The overwhelming consensus is that to achieve such perfection, I should brine the bird. I decided to start small, and opted to begin with a whole Cornish Game Hen rather than going straight to the turkey. My mom used to make fantastic hens when I was growing up, and they're cheaper so if I screwed up too badly, it would be alright.

There are a couple things you should know before diving into brines. The first is make sure you get an all natural bird, one that hasn't already been prepared with sodium. You'd get salt overload if you brined one of them. Secondly, and this is more a matter of preference, don't use iodized salt (like table salt). Apparently, in such high quantities, it gives a slightly metallic taste to the meat. I used kosher salt.

Rosemary and Sage Cornish Game Hens
makes 2 whole hens, 4 servings

What You'll Need:
2 Cornish Game Hens, thawed
1 gallon water
3/4 cup kosher salt
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 cup white wine, I used a Chardonnay
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 Tbs cracked pepper
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup rosemary
15-20 sage leaves
3 green onions, diced
You'll also need a big bucket or pot to hold the brine and birds in that, and here's the trick, also fits into your refrigerator.

The Process:
   Heat 4 cups of the gallon of water in a pot. Mix in your salt and sugars until well dissolved. Add all the spices, garlic, and onions and simmer for ten minutes to help the flavors blend. Add back into the gallon of water along with the wine and lemon juice. Put in the refrigerator to cool for about an hour.

   Once the brine is well chilled, add the birds. The birds must not be frozen, so make sure you give them plenty of time to thaw. Place your brining pot in the refrigerator and let them sit in the brine for 1-2 hours, depending on your salt preference. Remember, the longer they brine, the saltier they'll be. I let them sit for 1 1/2 hours. Turn them halfway through to ensure both sides are well brined.

   About 20 minutes before they're finished, preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Once the time is up, drain off and discard the brine. I drained the brine through a sieve to catch the spices, in order to mix them with some olive oil to rub over the birds, but you could leave it as is. Rinse the brine from the surface of each hen and then pat dry with a paper towel. Rub a little olive oil on the surface of the hens (or your oil/spice mixture) and place them in a roasting pan. Roast about 55 minutes, until your instant read thermometer reads 165 degrees.

   They will be ridiculously moist because of the brine, so even if you cook it a little too long (as I have been known to do) you'll be alright. Halve the hens and serve. They go lovely with roasted potatoes and carrots.

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