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Roasted Cornish Game Hens with Cranberry-Port Sauce

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Serves eight.

This is a great dish for company because much of the work, from preparing the hens to making the broth for the sauce, can be done a day ahead.

For the hens
  • 4 Cornish game hens (1½ to 2 lb. each)
  • 4 tsp. finely chopped fresh sage (stems reserved for the broth)
  • 4 tsp. chopped fresh thyme (stems reserved for the broth)
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 Tbs. unsalted butter
For the broth
  • 2 tsp. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 cups lower-salt chicken broth
  • 1/3 cup chopped shallot
For the sauce
  • 1/3 cup ruby port
  • 1/3 cup dried cranberries
  • 1 Tbs. unsalted butter
  • 1 Tbs. minced shallot
  • 1 Tbs. all-purpose flour
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Prepare the hens

Using poultry shears, remove the backbones from the hens by cutting along both sides. Set each hen breast side up on a cutting board and flatten by pressing down on the breastbone with your palms. With a chef’s knife, split each hen in two along the breastbone. Extend the wings on each side and chop off the last two joints. Discard any large deposits of fat. Chop or break each backbone into 2 pieces and set aside with the wing tips.

In a small bowl, combine the sage and thyme with 1 Tbs. salt and 1 tsp. pepper. Pat the hens dry and rub the herb mixture on both sides of each hen. Arrange the hens skin side up on a rimmed baking sheet so they aren’t touching and refrigerate, uncovered, for at least 12 hours or overnight.

Make the broth and start the sauce

Pat the reserved wings and back bones dry. Heat the oil over medium-high heat in a 3- to 4-quart saucepan. Add the wings and back bones and cook, stirring a few times, until browned on all sides, about 8 minutes. Add the chicken broth, chopped shallot, and reserved sage and thyme stems. Simmer gently, adjusting the heat as needed, for 30 minutes. Strain, discarding the solids. Cool the broth and refrigerate overnight.

Combine the port and cranberries for the sauce in a small bowl, cover, and let sit overnight.

Roast the hens

An hour before roasting, remove the hens from the refrigerator and let sit at room temperature. Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 450°F.

Melt the 1 Tbs. butter and brush it lightly over the hens. Roast, rotating the pan about halfway though, until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of a thigh reads 175°F to 180°F, about 30 minutes. Let rest at least 5 minutes before serving.

Make the sauce

While the hens roast, skim the fat from the broth and heat the broth in a small saucepan. Heat the 1 Tbs. butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the minced shallot and cook, stirring occasionally, until the shallot is tender, about 2 minutes. Stir in the flour and cook, whisking gently, until it forms a thick paste, about 30 seconds. Strain the port through a fine sieve into the saucepan, reserving the cranberries (don’t press down on the berries). Whisk for about 30 seconds. Slowly whisk in the broth until the sauce is smooth, adjusting the heat to maintain a steady simmer. Simmer, whisking occasionally, until reduced by about one-third, 5 to 8 minutes. Stir in the reserved cranberries. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Keep warm.

Just before serving, pour any accumulated juices from the hens into the sauce. Serve the hens drizzled with the sauce.

Drink Suggestions

To drink: Fleur Vineyards Petite Sirah 2007 ($16) from the north coast of California has exceptionally dark red fruits and soft, delicate tannins, a perfect balance for this dish.

nutrition information (per serving):
Calories (kcal): 490; Fat (g): 32; Fat Calories (kcal): 290; Saturated Fat (g): 10; Protein (g): 36; Monounsaturated Fat (g): 14; Carbohydrates (g): 9; Polyunsaturated Fat (g): 6; Sodium (mg): 960; Cholesterol (mg): 210; Fiber (g): 1;

Photo: Scott Phillips

Delicious! Elegant New Year's Eve dinner main with foodie friends. Will definitely make this dish again.

Outstanding! It is super easy to remove the backbones with a good pair of poultry shears, and the dry brine and overnight drying does help crisp the skin, but mine finished cooking and still need a little more crisping, so I ran them under the broiler a few minutes. Definitely make more sauce.

OMG - Amazing recipe. I tripled the sauce, and not a single drop remained. Didn't even add the pan drippings, since there was enough taste and residual drippings with the original broth recipe. We had a dinner party for 11 for our 25th wedding anniversary, and served this, along with a polenta with roasted kabocha squash, carmelized onions and goat cheese, surrounded by roasted veggies, plus a mixed greens salad with figs and a balsamic dressing. Our guests were bowled over. I'll try this with a roasted chicken next time. A keeper, and repeat performer.

Very good. The dry brining method really does work and is much more convenient than wet brining. I might recommend a flash under the broiler at the end (I needed a little more browning). I served this on Thanksgiving instead of turkey. The port sauce was a nice alternative to cranberry sauce.

I'm so glad after reading the reviews that I doubled the sauce. This was SOOOOO much fun to make. I got to use my kitchen shears AND my butcher knife. Yee haw! I've never dry brined before but will use this method again and again. It was absolutely easy to make and very very delicious. I made it twice in one week for my family and paired w the Orecchiette, brussel sprouts, gorgonzola with buttered pecans pasta dish in the same issue. A little French ... a little Italian ... who knew!!! Delicioso!!!!

A delicious and very special dish. Splitting and cutting the hens is somewhat time consuming but the rest of the recipe is simple. Do not skip the day of drying in the refrigerator as it really does help the skin brown and crispen beautifully. The sauce is excellent. I tripled the sauce for leftovers and am glad I did.

This easily deserves 5 stars. So easy, yet so elegant. I look forward to making this in the future for a dinner party.

Absolutely fabulous. Made it for our friends for their 39th anniversary dinner. My husband was still saying how good it was the next day.

I made this for a dinner with friends and it was delicious. I followed all of the instructions and it came out perfect! The only thing I would change is that I would double the sauce recipe, everyone wanted more!

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