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Matzo-Stuffed Cornish Game Hens

Matzo-Stuffed Cornish Game Hens Related:   Hanukkah, meat, Passover, poultry, Shabbat

Prep time: 30 mins + 5 hours to make jus

Cook time: 1½-2 hours

Yield: 4 servings

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My mom always chose to cook Rock Cornish game hens instead of large chickens. They were perfect for our family—with the four of us (my brother, mom, dad and me) each getting a whole bird. Cornish hens have gotten a bad rap for some reason; you never see them in restaurants anymore. Too bad, because this recipe, stuffing the birds with matzo and chicken livers and serving them with braised cabbage and chicken jus, is a winner.

Ingredients

  • Roasted Chicken Jus
  • 2 pounds uncooked chicken bones
  • 1 tablespoon canola oil
  • 2 celery ribs, chopped
  • 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 carrot, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 2 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 12 black peppercorns
  • 1 cup dry red wine (such as Cabernet Sauvignon—an inexpensive one is fine)
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • Stuffing
  • 1 cup chicken livers (about 7 ounces)
  • ¼ cup canola oil
  • 1 large yellow onion, cut into ¼-inch dice
  • 3 celery ribs, cut into ¼-inch dice
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 teaspoons chopped fresh sage
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1⁄8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 matzo crackers (full sheets), crushed into pieces
  • Hens*
  • 4 Cornish game hens
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 tablespoons margarine (½ stick), cut into small pieces (or canola or olive oil)
  • Salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 carrots, coarsely chopped
  • 2 celery ribs, coarsely chopped
  • 1 medium yellow onion, coarsely chopped
  • 1 cup Roasted Chicken Jus, prepared in advance, or chicken stock

Preparation

  • To make the jus (skip this step if using chicken stock instead): Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Place the bones in a roasting pan and drizzle with the oil. Roast, stirring several times so they cook evenly, until the bones turn light golden-brown—30 to 40 minutes total. Leaving the oven on, transfer the bones to a paper towel-lined plate to drain and wipe the pan dry. Return the roasted bones to the pan; add the celery, onions, carrots, garlic, thyme and peppercorns. Pour in the wine and stir in the tomato paste and salt. If appropriate, add water to cover. Return the pan to the oven and cook for 4 hours, adding water as necessary to keep the bones covered.
  • Pour the liquid from the pan through a mesh strainer into a small saucepan; discard the bones. Bring the liquid to boiling over medium heat and boil gently until it is reduced to 2½ cups, skimming off any impurities. Transfer the jus to a food storage container; it will keep in the refrigerator for 1 week or in the freezer for up to 1 month.
  • To make the hens:
  • Make the stuffing: Clean the livers*, then coarsely chop them into ½-inch pieces. Heat the oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add the onions, celery and garlic, cook for 2 minutes; lower the heat to medium-low and continue to cook until the vegetables are translucent and begin to soften—6 to 8 minutes. Add the livers, sage, salt and pepper; sauté until the livers are cooked—about 5 minutes. Transfer the mixture to a paper towel-lined plate to drain. Place the crushed matzos in a medium bowl; add the liver mixture and mix well with a wooden spoon. Taste the stuffing and add more salt or pepper if you wish.
  • Clean the hens: Trim any excess fat from the hens; wash them under cold water and pat dry with paper towels. Set aside.
  • Mix a mirepoix: Mix the carrots, celery and onions in the bottom of a roasting pan large enough to hold all 4 hens.
  • Stuff the hens: Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Loosely fill the cavity of each hen with stuffing. Drizzle 1½ teaspoons oil over each hen and rub into skin. Sprinkle each hen with salt and pepper. Truss the hens with twine (tie the legs together, tuck the wings under the backs). Place the hens, breast up, in the roasting pan, on the mirepoix. Dot each with the margarine, dividing equally, or oil. (If there is extra stuffing, place it in an appropriate size casserole or ramekin; add it to the oven with the hens about halfway through the roasting time.)
  • Roast the hens: Place the pan in the oven and roast for 10 minutes, lower the heat to 325 degrees. Roast for 40 minutes more, until done (the internal temperature of the thigh should register 160 degrees on an instant-read thermometer),—checking from time to time that the hens are browning evenly and rotating the pan 180 degrees about halfway through the cooking time.
  • Make the sauce: Transfer the hens to a cutting board and cover with foil to keep warm. Transfer the mirepoix and pan juices to a small saucepan and add the Roasted Chicken Jus. Bring to simmering over medium heat; simmer for 10 minutes. Strain the sauce through a fine mesh strainer into another pan or serving pitcher; discard the mirepoix and keep the sauce warm.
  • Carve the hens for serving: Slice the thighs, legs and breast meat from each hen—as you would when carving a turkey. Carefully spoon the stuffing from inside each hen and place on individual plates. Serve with braised cabbage. Arrange the meat from one hen on top of the stuffing and cabbage on each plate. Spoon the sauce over the top and serve.
  • * Stuff a Chicken Instead: This stuffing is also an excellent choice when you feel like roasting a whole 3- to 5-pound chicken (or can’t find any Cornish hens). Prepare the recipe as indicated here, but let the chicken roast at 400 degrees for 20 minutes before lowering the heat to 325 degrees, and allow more time overall for it to cook—60 to 80 minutes total, depending on size. Carve the chicken as you wish and serve as described for the hens.
  • ** Chicken Liver Prep: One thing to keep in mind when dealing with chicken livers: You must take the time to clean them well to prevent any unpleasant bitterness creeping into your cooked dish. Cut the lobes of the liver apart. Using the tip of a sharp paring knife, remove the sinew that runs into the meat and trim off any yellow spots or unevenly colored areas. Rinse the livers under cold running water and pat them dry thoroughly with paper towels before sautéing. (You can store them in the refrigerator for 2 days or freeze for up to 1 month.) Watch out for splattering—the livers contain water, so they are likely to pop during cooking, and the hot fat can really burn you if you’re not careful.
  • Reprinted with permission from The New Jewish Table by Todd Gray and Ellen Kassoff Gray, © 2013, St Martin’s Press. Photo credit: Renee Comet. 

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