spice-rubbed cornish hens with cranberry-date chutney

cornishhensUsually when I have guests over for dinner, I cook Thai food, which requires about 10-20 minutes of preparation, 10 minutes of a flurry of arm-flailing effort, and then voila! it’s served, and you have to eat it right away. But I’m starting to discover the glory of baking food, which requires you start a little earlier perhaps, but then for the hour or so the food is baking, you can do other things. Like hide the socks, jackets, books, and other bits of evidence that your home is not quite a Martha Stewart home. And light candles. And freshen up your makeup. And have a glass of wine. So you don’t look like a sweaty, disgruntled host who can’t even greet the guests as they walk in the door because you’re busy producing four different dishes at once.

I realize I may be the only one who is just now figuring this out.

But I’m truly excited to find ways to look like a gourmet chef, when really it takes little effort. And that’s where this dish comes in! Because cornish game hens for dinner? Who does that? Sounds decadent right? Turns out it’s super easy, cheaper than lamb or fish (at least in these parts), and pretty much guaranteed to impress your guests.

This is where I’m digressing to tell you about this cookbook I found that I. AM. IN. LOVE. WITH. It’s called Eating Well In Season: The Farmer’s Market Cookbook, by Jessie Price, et al. I’d been looking for a cookbook organized by seasons so I could take better advantage of things available at the local farmer’s market and food co-op, and I came across this one. It’s fabulous because most recipes call for easy-to-find ingredients, the recipes themselves are fairly simple, there’s lots of gorgeous photos (and really, it’s all about the photos in a cookbook, isn’t it?), and everything we’ve tried is REALLY GOOD. (And no, I’m not being paid for this endorsement. Just me all by my onesie saying this book kicks cookbook bootie.)

Anyway, so this recipe actually came from the Spring section, because it calls for rhubarb. I couldn’t find rhubarb, but what I did have was leftover cranberries, and I figured, they’re sweet-tart too, so it should be all good. And oh my, it was. And cranberries make this the perfect holiday dinner.

Is your mouth watering yet?

Ok, so here are the ingredients you need (for 8 servings; the pictures you’ll see are what I did for 4 servings).

For the hens:
1 orange
4 Cornish game hens
1 T light brown sugar
1/4 t ground cinnamon
1/2 t kosher salt
1/4 t ground pepper

For the chutney:
1/3 c cider vinegar
1/4 c packed light brown sugar
1 T minced fresh ginger
1/4 t ground cinnamon
2 c fresh cranberries (I mashed them a little with a mortar and pestle)
1/2 c pitted dates, chopped

So Step 1, play with wash your hens.
cornishhens_danceAhem. Actually, the cookbook says the first step is to preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Then take a vegetable peeler and remove a 2-inch strip of zest from the orange, cut the orange in half, squeeze juice out of one half and cute the remaining half into 4 wedges. Place two tablespoons of juice and the strip of zest in a medium saucepan for Step 4. Tuck an orange wedge into the cavity of each game hen. Sprinkle the remaining orange juice over the hens and place each breast side up in a large roasting pan, leaving space between them. (Although I cut the recipe in half for there were only 4 of us at dinner, I did use the whole orange and just put two wedges in each bird. Figured it couldn’t hurt. And actually I think it helped keep them extra moist.)

Step 2:
Stir 1 tablespoon brown sugar, cinnamon, salt and pepper. Rub the mixture over the hens and tie the legs together with kitchen string. I didn’t have kitchen string, so I just used toothpicks like so:

Step 3:
Roast the hens until the juices run clear and an instant-read thermometer registers 165 degrees when inserted into the thickest part of the thigh, about 1 hour. Let rest for 5 minutes before serving.

Step 4: While the hens are roasting, you can prepare the chutney. Add vinegar, brown sugar, ginger, and cinnamon to the orange juice and zest in the saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 5 minutes. Add cranberries and dates, increase heat to medium-high and return to a boil.
cornishhens_boilReduce heat to low and simmer gently until the cranberries are tender, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool. Just before serving, remove orange zest. (I had a little left over orange juice, which I reserved until it was time to serve the chutney. By the time the hens had roasted the chutney had gotten a little dry, so I stirred in a little bit of orange juice just to liven it up a bit upon serving.)

Step 5: To serve, remove string (or toothpicks) and slice each hen in half lengthwise using a large, heavy knife. You can remove the skins for a healthier meal. You can see I didn’t because it’s juicier and yummier with the skins on.

Serve each portion with 1/4 cup of the chutney.
cornishhens_chutneyI put mine on a bed of lettuce and served the chutney with a sprig of mint to decorate.

This dish is really wonderful for when you have guests or for any special meal because game hens do seem decadent. And I think the cranberries give it that extra special holiday touch. My vote? ♥♥♥♥

Rating System:
♥♥♥♥♥ Omigod this is awesome, I could eat it every night!
♥♥♥♥ Wow this is amazing for a special meal!
♥♥♥ Great choice for a dinner party!
♥♥ Hey, that was pretty good. We should have it again sometime.
♥ Eh. S’all right….
♠ Ugh, no! That was so bad I just had to share.

After trying this baby out, it quickly became a go-to meal.
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5 thoughts on “spice-rubbed cornish hens with cranberry-date chutney

  1. Wow, that looks SO YUMMY! I always get worried about baking poultry as I feel like it's easy for me to cook it too dry. Those look perfect!

    • Thanks so much! These took exactly an hour to bake. I accidentally left them in 5 minutes too long and the breast was just on the verge of becoming dry, but thankfully didn't! I think the orange wedges helped and so did baking them with the skin on. I also kept some of the leftover sauce from the pan and poured it over the hens when I served them.

      If you try it let me know how it goes!

  2. Thank God, I thought I was the only one who played with my poultry. I always make them do a little dance. Ha.

  3. After that yummy presentation, the one thing I have to say is that I'm glad I'm not the only one to play with dead fowl. *grin* Mine always seem to do a dance or wave at the kids. Crazy birds.