Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Lemon-Sage Cornish Game Hens with Porcini Tomato Sauce

There are several good reasons you should try this chicken recipe. For one, its pretty easy to make, considering it involves whole chickens. (When I first started learning to cook, whole birds seemed kind of intimidating to me…but the truth is, whole birds sound a whole lot more complicated than they actually are. And this particular recipe is fairly easy.)

The second reason you should make this recipe is that it tastes quite good. The chicken is baked at a high temperature, so the skin becomes nice and crispy while the chicken stays juicy and tasty. Lemons are stuffed in the chicken – they give a bright but subtle counterpoint to the umami flavor present in the mushroom tomato sauce.

This recipe is made with Cornish game hens (sometimes known as "rock" hens...they're basically just smaller-sized whole chickens). In my household, one large Cornish game hen will serve two people…but we’re used to moderately-sized portions. If you have big eaters, or if you want to have leftovers, you might want to allow one small hen per person.

Lemon-Sage Cornish Game Hens with Porcini Tomato Sauce
Serves up to 4

Chicken Ingredients:
Two to four 1-1/4 to 1-1/2 pound Cornish game hens (see the note above)
For each hen, you'll need...
1 medium lemon
2 large fresh sage sprigs (left whole), plus 1 Tbsp chopped fresh sage
1 Tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper

Sauce Ingredients (makes enough for four servings)
2 Tbsp olive oil
3/4 cup hot water
1/2 ounce dried porcini mushrooms
2 large cloves garlic, finely chopped
one 14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes, with juices

First, prepare the chicken:

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. You’ll need a roasting pan large enough to hold the birds.

Remove the giblets. (They’re usually contained in a little plastic baggie stuck inside the chicken cavity, but sometimes they’re just loose inside the bird.) They can be discarded or saved for another use. Rinse the chicken (inside and out). Pick off any stray feathers or any giant clumps of fat. Pat the chicken dry with paper towels.

Cut each lemon in half. Save half of each lemon (we’ll squeeze it on the meat later). Cut the remaining lemon halves into rough wedges. Stuff the lemon wedges and the two large sage sprigs inside the cavity of each bird. Put the stuffed birds in your roasting pan. I like to roast them breast-side-down, because the juices from the bird will help keep the meat moist and flavorful.

Drizzle one tablespoon of olive oil over each bird. Squeeze the juice from the remaining lemon halves over each bird. Sprinkle each bird with a generous pinch of salt and several generous turns of freshly-ground black pepper. Scatter 1 tablespoon of chopped sage over each bird.

Roast the birds at 450 degrees F until they are cooked through and the juices run clear when thickest part of thigh is pierced. (It should take approximately 45-50 minutes.) Transfer the birds to a platter (or a cutting surface if you want to cut them in half – use heavy-duty kitchen scissors to snip them in half); tent them with foil to keep them warm. Reserve the pan drippings.

While birds are roasting, start the sauce...and...

...I highly recommend that you serve this with creamy polenta…that's what the chicken is served with in the photo at the top of this post.  Follow your polenta package directions to make a creamy polenta. If you decide to make polenta, you’ll probably want to start it now, as it probably takes awhile to make…

Combine 3/4 cup of hot tap water and the porcini mushrooms in a small bowl. Let them stand until the mushrooms soften, about 30 minutes. Remove the mushrooms from the soaking liquid, reserving the soaking liquid. Roughly chop the mushrooms; set the mushrooms and the soaking liquid aside.

Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add 1 tablespoon of chopped fresh sage and the garlic; sauté them until they are fragrant, about one minute. Add the tomatoes, the chopped mushrooms, and the mushroom soaking liquid. Bring the sauce to a simmer – it can simmer on low heat until the birds are done roasting.

Once birds are done roasting, pour the pan drippings into a small measuring cup. Skim the fat off of the top, then stir the remaining drippings into the tomato mixture. Simmer the tomato mixture two minutes to blend the flavors. Serve the chicken with the sauce.

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