Easy-to-cook with nice fatty skin, plump breasts, and tender texture, Rock Cornish game hens are a nice addition to festive fall dinner tables. Weighing in at a pound-and-a-half each, they plate beautifully for one-per-person service. For this recipe, I’ve marinated the hens in a spice rub of paprika, herbs, and garlic, filled them with a nutty blend of wild and brown rice, toasted pecans, dried cherries, herbs, and mushrooms, and roasted them over onion, sage, and rosemary. The pan juices make a nice gravy, and the roasted onion is a good accompaniment for the stuffing.
Note: I use a rice cooker for most consistent rice results. Follow your rice cooker instructions for correct rice to liquid ratio. Mine calls for 1 part rice to 1 1/2 parts liquid. If yours is different, please adjust the amount of chicken stock accordingly.
For the poultry:
- Four cornish game hens
- 4 teaspoons salt, divided
- 3 cloves garlic, minced and crushed to a paste
- Juice from 1/2 fresh lemon
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 teaspoons pepper
- 1 tablespoon each finely minced tarragon leaves, chives, and parsley
- 2 tablespoons paprika
For the wild rice stuffing:
- Rice cooker (follow manufacturer instructions for liquid-to-rice ratio; mine calls for 1 cup rice to 1 1/2 cups liquid)
- 2 cups brown rice blend (I used Lundberg Countrywild long grain brown, red, and black rice blend) plus 1/2 cup wild rice (I used Reese Minnesota Wild Rice)
- 4 cups low-sodium chicken stock
- 3 tablespoons each finely minced fresh rosemary leaves, thyme leaves, and sage leaves, divided
- 1 stick (1/2 cup) butter
- 1 large yellow onion, peel discarded, chopped to make 2 cups diced
- 2 cups finely diced celery
- 1/2 cup dried cherries, chopped
- 1 cup water
- 8-ounce package cremini mushrooms, very finely chopped
- 3 ounces shiitake mushrooms, tough stems discarded, sliced thinly
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1 teaspoon soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup finely minced flat leaf parsley
- 1/2 cup white wine
- 1/2 cup toasted unsalted pecans, chopped
- 2 tablespoons butter, softened, to spread under skins of birds
- 6 to 8 sprigs fresh rosemary, divided (you will save a few for plating later)
- 6 to 8 sprigs fresh sage, divided (you will save a few for plating later)
- 2 yellow onions, peels discarded, sliced into wedges and separated
Remove any excess fat from around bird cavity areas. Pat birds dry. Rub birds inside and out with 1/2 of the salt. Combine remaining salt, garlic, lemon, olive oil, pepper, minced herbs, and paprika. Coat birds with mixture. Allow to marinate for two hours or longer in the refrigerator.
Make wild rice stuffing:
In rice cooker, combine rice with chicken stock. Cook rice according to your rice cooker instructions.
In a sauté pan over low heat, melt 1/2 of the butter. Add onion. Cook until tender and translucent. Add celery, chopped cherries, and 1 cup water. Partially cover and cook until tender; about 10 minutes. Remove lid and continue cooking until most of the liquid has evaporated. Move vegetables to a large bowl. Add remaining 1/2 stick of butter and mushrooms. Cook stirring over medium heat until mushrooms have released liquid and most of the liquid has evaporated. Add soy, salt, sugar, and wine. Cook five minutes more. Combine mushrooms with celery/onion/cherry mixture. Stir in cooked rice. Add toasted chopped pecans. Adjust seasoning to taste with salt and pepper.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a roasting pan, scatter the wedges of onion and sprigs of rosemary and sage to make a “rack” for the birds to rest on during roasting. (Reserve a few herb sprigs to add to serving platter, or individual plates for service.) Carefully loosen skin over each bird breast and spread a bit of butter under the skin. Loosely fill the cavity of each bird with stuffing. Place remaining stuffing aside to warm later. Tie bird legs closed with a bit of twine. Place the stuffed birds over the rack of onions and herbs. Place in oven for 50 minutes to 1 hour until golden brown and thickest part of meat reads 165 F on meat thermometer.
Remove birds from pan. If onions are not completely soft, cover pan with foil and continue roasting for 10 minutes. Discard cooked herbs. Remove cooked onions to a serving dish. If desired, prepare gravy from remaining pan juices. Warm reserved stuffing in microwave. To serve hens, plate individually with spoons of stuffing, onion, and sage sprigs, or place birds on a serving platter, surround with reserved rosemary and sage, and serve the rice in a side dish.