Maria devised this Cornish game hens recipe to be customized—even for each guest. Substitute chestnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, or pecans for the pine nuts and any dried fruit for the currants. Larger fruits should be diced into small pieces before adding to the mix. The bacon can be omitted or you can substitute a small amount (4 ounces) of pork sausage.—David Leite
For the pine-nut-and currant stuffing
1/2 loaf peasant bread, cut into 1/2-inch cubes (about 6 cups)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 small onion, finely diced
2 stalks celery, thinly sliced
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup pine nuts, toasted in a dry skillet
1/2 cup currants
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme leaves
1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage leaves
2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary leaves
2 slices thick bacon, cut into 1/8-inch pieces
1 1/2 cups chilled chicken stock
For the Cornish game hens
2 cups pomegranate juice (POM & R.W. Knudsen, preferred)
1/4 cup sugar
3/4 teaspoon whole black peppercorns, cracked
Four 22-ounce fresh or thawed Rock Cornish game hens
Herb-scented Pine-Nut-and-Currant-Peasant-Bread Stuffing
1 to 2 cups chicken stock
Make the pine-nut-and currant stuffing
1. Preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C). Spread the bread cubes in one layer on a baking sheet. Toast in the oven for 10 to 12 minutes until crisp and golden on the edges. Remove and let cool.
2. In a large saute pan, heat the butter over medium-high heat until it begins to brown. Add the onions and celery and saute, stirring occasionally, until tender, translucent, and starting to brown, about 4 to 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Stir in the pine nuts, currants, and the chopped herbs. Transfer to a small bowl.
3. In the same pan over medium heat, saute the bacon until golden but still chewy. Pour the bacon and pan drippings into the vegetable mixture. Let cool.
4. Add the vegetable mixture to the bread cubes, along with the chicken stock. Allow the bread to absorb the stock and mix thoroughly. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Store in the refrigerator tightly wrapped until ready to use.
Prepare the Cornish game hens
1. Mix the pomegranate juice, sugar, and black pepper in a small saucepan and bring to a rolling boil. Reduce to about 3/4 cup. Pour the glaze into a heatproof measuring cup. Cool and reserve. The glaze can be made up to one week in advance.
2. Preheat the oven to 450°F (232°C) and adjust the rack to the middle of the oven.
3. Rinse the game birds inside and out with cold water and pat dry with paper towels. Snip off the tails and remove any excess fat around the body cavity and neck.
4. Salt the cavities of the game hens and fill each with 1/2 cup of the stuffing. Tie the legs together with kitchen twine and tuck the wing tips underneath.
5. Season the outside of game hens well with salt. (The glaze contains plenty of pepper, so no additional pepper is needed.) Place the hens on a rack in a large roasting pan, or on a baking sheet with a lip, making sure they’re not touching. Roast for 20 minutes. Reduce the temperature to 400°F (200°C) and add enough chicken stock to the pan to cover the bottom by about 1/2 inch. Brush the game hens well with the glaze.
6. Continue to roast the hens for 45 minutes, brushing with the glaze every 15 minutes. Five minutes before removing the birds from the oven, give a final brush of glaze.
7. Transfer the game hens to a platter and untie their legs. Let rest, tented with foil, for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, strain the pan juices into a small saucepan and reduce over high heat to concentrate the flavor. For a sweeter taste, add a tablespoon or two of the pomegranate glaze before reducing. Season with salt and pepper to taste, if necessary. Serve alongside the game hens.
Note: To cook the remaining stuffing, place it in a well-buttered heatproof dish with a 5-cup capacity and cover with aluminum foil. Place in the oven 20 minutes before the birds are finished. When the birds are removed, uncover the stuffing, stir, and continue baking for 10 minutes to brown the top. Right before serving, drizzle on some of the strained pan juices and fluff with a fork.
Recipe © 2004 Maria Helm Sinskey. All rights reserved.