Rotisserie Cornish Game Hens




When my Grandpa would make his annual visit to my parent's house, Cornish game hens were always on the menu.  Grandpa and my dad would work on their yearly home improvement project, and he would always want "little chickens" with rice pilaf stuffing when the project was over. But, before that, I'd get to help, and watch my Dad and Grandpa interact.*
*"No, no, no, not that way, you're doing it all wrong!"
**"But we measured it twice - it will fit...ok, it should fit...hmm. Back to the hardware store."
***"What do you mean, we're taking a break? It's only 90 degrees." "But we're sticking to the roof because the tar shingles are melting!"


This is how I learned to talk with the other men in my family.  We only communicate while working on a project, or watching sports.
*My wife thinks this is a tragedy. I think it's just how most men communicate. Tomato, tomahto.

Recipe: Rotisserie Cornish Game Hens

Overview:
See my rotisserie poultry overview, for a discussion of the general techniques used with this recipe.

Equipment:
  • Grill with Rotisserie attachment (I used a Weber Summit 650 with an infrared rotisserie burner. Here it is.)
  • 2 Aluminum foil drip pans (9"x11", or whatever fits your grill)

Ingredients:
  • 4 cornish hens, 1-2 lbs apiece (mine were roughly 1.5lbs each)
  • Kosher salt (Diamond Crystal) - 1 1/2 teaspoon per hen

Directions:
1. Pre-salting the hens. One day before cooking, rinse and dry the hens. Carefully run your finger under the skin on the breast to loosen it. Sprinkle each bird all over with 1 1/2 teaspoons of salt - I get some inside the cavity, some under the loosened skin on the breast, and then coat the outside with the rest, concentrating on the thick part of the breasts and the legs. Put the chickens in a pan where they have a little space around them, wrap in plastic wrap, and let rest in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours.

2. Truss and spit the hens. One hour before cooking, take the tray with the hens out of the refrigerator. Truss the hens (see rotisserie poultry overview for details) and put them on the spit. It helps if you have four sets of forks for your spit for this. Put the hens on in two sets of two - first bird on the spit feet first, then the second bird breast first, so the neck part of the backbone of the two hens are touching. (see the picture, below.) Then use a fork to secure the first pair of hens. Repeat for the second set of hens. Let sit at room temperature while you prepare your grill.

3. Prepare the grill: Set your grill up for rotisserie cooking at high heat. For my Weber Summit, this means turning the two outer burners (burners 1 and 6) to high, and turning the infrared burner to high. Then I put my drip pans in the middle, over the unlit burners. (See here for more rotisserie setup details.)


4. Cook the hens. Put the spit on the grill, put your foil pans under the hens, and start the spit spinning. Cook with the lid closed. It will take for 30-45 minutes, depending on the size of the hens. (It took 35 minutes for my 1.5lb hens). Check the internal temp on the hens after 20 minutes, and every 10 minutes thereafter - you want 160*F to 165*F in the breast, and 170*F to 180*F in the thigh. Remove the spit from the grill (while wearing gloves!), and remove the hens from the spit. Cover the hens with foil, and let rest for 15 minutes before serving.

5. Make a sauce from the drippings. (Optional) If the drippings aren't burnt, remove the drip pans from the grill. Skim off the fat, then scrape the rest of the drippings into a small saucepan. Add one cup of homemade chicken stock, and bring to a simmer. Add any juices that come out of the chicken during the resting and carving to the saucepan. Simmer until slightly thickened, then add salt and pepper to taste. (Note: watch out for burnt or sooty drippings, especially if you cooked on a charcoal grill. Either skip the drippings, or just make a sauce by reducing some homemade stock, and adding the juices from carving.)

6. Final prep and serve. Cut the hens in half - I find a half a hen to be a good serving for an adult, with one hen per person if they're a big eater.* On a cutting board, run a chef's knife through the cavity and split the chicken along the backbone, then turn it over and split through the breast.
*Of course, I could eat more. I could always eat more when it tastes as good as these hens do.

Variations:
*Brine instead of overnight salting - if you don't have the time for the overnight salting, use a wet brine instead - check my Brined and Herb Rubbed Cornish Game Hens recipe.

*Herbs under the skin, or in the cavity - I got the idea for the overnight salting from the Zuni Cafe Cookbook. In that recipe, they also have you put a small piece of thyme under the skin of the breast.

*Spice rub instead of just salt - use your favorite spice rub on the hens, making sure you get it under the skin of the breast and in the cavity of the hen.

*Marinate the hens instead- Skip the salting, and use your favorite marinade. Steven Raichlen recommends a herb/mustard/lemon marinade. (From Steven Raichlen's How to Grill)

Notes:
*Watch your hands with the hot spit! Use oven mitts or (preferably) welding gloves.

*If you can find them, use fresh hens (I got mine at Difeos Poultry in downtown Akron), but frozen hens will work if they're all you can find. Just thaw them out in the refrigerator before the salting step.

*Are cornish game hens really a game bird? No, they're just a young chicken. So they really are just the "little chickens" of my youth!

Questions? Comments?  Other ideas? Leave them in the comments section below.
Related Posts:

References and inspirations:
Judy Rodgers' Zuni Cafe Cookbook
Steven Raichlen's How to Grill




Check out my cookbook, Rotisserie Grilling.

Everything you could ask about the rotisserie,
plus 50 (mostly) new recipes to get you cooking.

It's a Kindle e-book, so you can download it and start reading immediately!


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