A grand Christmas roast served on a small scale


By SARA MOULTON

Associated Press

My family has always insisted that the centerpiece of our Christmas feast be some kind of show-stopping roast. We’re talking a standing rib roast or whole beef tenderloin. And, as if these prizes were not already rich enough in themselves, we tend to pair them with an extravagant sauce, usually bearnaise. Hey, it’s Christmas.

My challenge for this column was to come up with a Christmas dinner showstopper just as glamorous as the usual stars, but somehow leaner.

It occurred to me that Cornish game hens might fit the bill. You can say that they’re small, or at least small-ish, but I prefer to think about them as individual. They were created during the ’50s, after all, by a French couple in Connecticut who wanted something that didn’t exist at the time — a succulent bird suitable for a single serving.

They realized their dream by crossing a Cornish game chicken with a White Rock (or Plymouth) chicken. Despite the name, there is nothing gamy about this bird. On the contrary, it tastes like what it is — really moist and delicious chicken that is sized just right to serve one per customer.

Herb Roasted Cornish Game Hens with Creamy Mustard Sauce

Start to finish: 3 hours 20 minutes (30 minutes active)

Servings: 4

1/4 cup finely chopped fresh sage, plus extra to garnish

1/4 cup finely chopped fresh thyme leaves, plus 1 large sprig for the stock, and extra to garnish

1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon lemon zest

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

Four 1 1/4-pound Cornish game hens

1 pound chicken wings, separated into joints

1 cup coarsely chopped yellow onion

1/2 cup coarsely chopped carrot

2 garlic cloves, smashed

1 tablespoon tomato paste

1/2 cup red wine

1 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken broth

1 tablespoon cornstarch

1/2 cup evaporated skim milk

2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

Ground black pepper

Heat the oven to 400 F.

In a small bowl, combine the sage, thyme leaves, lemon zest and salt.

Very carefully separate the skin from the meat on the breast and thighs of each hen. Rub a quarter of the herb blend directly onto the breast and thigh meat (under the skin) of each hen. Cover and chill the hens.

Meanwhile, in a large saucepan or Dutch oven arrange the chicken wings. Roast the wings on the oven’s middle rack for 15 minutes, then turn them and roast for another 15 minutes, or until they are golden. Add the onion, carrot, garlic, tomato paste and the thyme sprig, then roast for another 15 minutes, or until the vegetables are slightly caramelized.

Set the pan of wings and vegetables over medium heat on the stovetop. Add the wine and bring to a simmer. Simmer until the wine is reduced by half. Add the chicken broth and enough cold water to cover the wings by 1 inch. Bring the liquid to a boil and simmer for 2 hours.

After the liquid has simmered for 1 1/2 hours, heat the oven to 475 F.

Remove the hens from the refrigerator and use paper towels to pat them dry. Coat them lightly with olive oil cooking spray, then use cooking twine to tie the legs together. Arrange the hens on a rack in a shallow roasting pan. Roast them in the middle of the oven for 30 minutes, or until a thermometer inserted at the leg thigh joint registers 165 F.

Meanwhile, when the chicken stock has simmered for 2 hours, strain the mixture into a large bowl, discarding the solids. Skim off and discard any fat on top of the stock. Wipe clean the pot used to make the stock, then pour the stock back into it. Return it to the stovetop over high heat and boil until reduced to 1 cup, about 10 minutes.

In a small cup, whisk together the cornstarch and the evaporated skim milk. While whisking constantly, add the cornstarch mixture to the simmering stock. Continue whisking until thickened, then whisk in the mustard. Season with salt and pepper.

Add the juices from the resting hens to the sauce. Transfer the hens to plates and pour some of the sauce over each one. Garnish with fresh thyme and sage.

Nutrition information per serving: 510 calories; 160 calories from fat (31 percent of total calories); 17 g fat (4.5 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 265 mg cholesterol; 14 g carbohydrate; 2 g fiber; 6 g sugar; 63 g protein; 1220 mg sodium.

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EDITOR’S NOTE: Sara Moulton was executive chef at Gourmet magazine for nearly 25 years, and spent a decade hosting several Food Network shows. She currently stars in public television’s “Sara’s Weeknight Meals” and has written three cookbooks, including “Sara Moulton’s Everyday Family Dinners.”

 

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