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Cornish Game Hens with Cornbread Stuffing

Cornish Game Hens

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Serves 2 to 4, depending on portion size.
By Dennis W. Viau; an original recipe.

Cornbread is an American original, according to my food encyclopedia. It can substitute for white bread in stuffing for a richer, slightly sweeter flavor and better texture. The Cornish game hens are “spatchcocked” (which is not in my food encyclopedia) for quicker cooking.

Ingredients:

For the Cornbread (make a day in advance):
1 cup (237ml) milk
¼ cup (57g) butter, melted
1 large egg
1¼ cups (190g) yellow cornmeal
1 cup (5 ounces/172g) all-purpose flour
¼ cup (50g) sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
For the Marinade:
½ cup (120ml) oil, such as corn oil
¼ cup (60ml) soy sauce
3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 teaspoons dry ground mustard (you could substitute with Dijon mustard)
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
2 sprigs fresh parsley, leaves only, finely chopped or crushed with a mortar and pestle
For the Stuffing:
2 cups (about 5½ ounces/150g) cubed day-old cornbread
1 cup (237ml) chicken stock, preferably homemade
2 tablespoons pure (cooking) olive oil
½ medium onion, chopped (3 to 4 ounces/85 to 113g)
1 medium rib (stalk) celery, diced
3 to 4 white mushrooms, chopped or sliced
6 to 8 fresh sage leaves, chopped
3 to 4 sprigs fresh parsley, leaves only, finely chopped
½ cup (57g) golden raisins
Salt and pepper to taste
Optional: Nuts, such a slivered almonds or pecan pieces, about half a cup
For the Hens:
2 Cornish game hens, 3½ to 4 pounds (1.6 to 1.8kg) total weight
2 to 3 tablespoons high-temperature frying oil, such as peanut oil or safflower oil

Directions:

To prepare the cornbread a day in advance:

Heat the oven to 400°F (200°C). Grease and/or line (with parchment paper) a 9 by 9 inch (23 by 23cm) baking pan. Combine milk, butter, and egg in a large bowl and blend with a whisk. Combine the cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl and blend well.

Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and mix together with a spoon only until combined. Pour into the prepared baking pan and distribute evenly.

Bake 20 to 25 minutes until lightly browned on top and a toothpick inserted into the center of the bread comes out clean (internal temperature between 195 and 205°F (91 to 96°C)).

Cool in the pan on a rack. Then transfer the bread to the rack and let sit out, uncovered, overnight to stale slightly.

To prepare the marinade:

Assemble all the marinade ingredients in a bowl and blend well. Set aside until needed.

To prepare the Cornish game hens:

Using good poultry shears or sharp kitchen scissors, cut the backbone from the hens by cutting along one side of the tail, near the thigh (but not through it), and continuing alongside the vertebrae up to the neck. Do the same on the other side, moving the entire backbone section, which can be saved for stock or discarded.

Open (butterfly) the cavity of each bird, pressing it flat. Place the hens inside a ziplock bag and add the marinade. Seal the bag and set aside, turning the bag occasionally to marinate the meat evenly.

To prepare the stuffing:

Cube and measure the cornbread, saving the unused portion for snacks. Place the bread cubes in a large bowl and add the stock. Allow the bread to soak up the stock. Turn occasionally.

Heat the oil in a skillet and sauté the onion until tender and translucent, 5 to 6 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and set aside.

Sauté the diced celery about 6 minutes and transfer to the bowl with the onions.

Add more fat (oil or butter) to the pan if necessary and sauté the mushrooms until tender, about 3 minutes. Transfer to the bowl with the onions and celery.

Chop the sage and parsley.

Add the onions, celery, mushrooms, sage, parsley, and raisins (and optional nuts) to the moist cornbread and mix gently (the cornbread tends to crumble easily). Season with salt and pepper. Transfer to a flat-bottom microwave-safe dish. Cover and set aside.

To cook the hens:

Heat a stove top grill/griddle, or a large skillet and add the frying oil. The chicken can also be grilled on an outdoor barbecue grill. Remove the hens from the marinade and arrange on the heated grill. (Discard the marinade.) Press down lightly, if necessary, to flatten the birds. While the chicken is cooking, heat the stuffing in the microwave.

Cook the chicken 10 to 15 minutes per side, checking the internal temperature with a meat thermometer. The temperature should rise to 160°F (71°C). Transfer to a platter and tent with foil. Let rest 5 minutes.

Serve with plenty of cornmeal stuffing and your favorite vegetables.