Monday, December 19, 2011

Orange Balsamic Cornish Game Hens

Every once in a while I am amazed by what can be found at Aldi. Since they market themselves as a discount bulk items shop, you would not expect to find the wide range of specialty items they offer. Things like lobster (both whole and tail), eiswein, and whole frozen duck come to mind. Just a note, I have tried each of these things and they rock. Imagine having a dinner for two with lobster risotto, a wine spectator rated wine,  and poached pears in a caramel sauce with whipped cream. Now imagine that the dinner costs less than $30.00. And you will have leftovers. Feel free to check yourself at this point as you may have just crapped your pants with delight.

Now that the mess is cleaned up and the laundry has been started, one of those specialty items available at Aldi is the Rock Cornish Game Hen. These have been available for some time. I do not believe they are huge sellers, but don't worry. They're frozen and don't expire for quite some time.

They were on special for Thanksgiving, but are back up to the price of $2.69 each; still, that's nothing. Well, actually it's $2.69, but that's still not much unless you pay for everything in pennies. I've bought these a few times now, and each time I have made the same recipe, and each time people have asked me to make it again.

My girlfriend and I split holidays with our families, so Christmas is usually spent with one family the week before and with the other on actual Christmas. We alternate the family each year. It's a lot like being single with divorced parents. One of whom doesn't love you as much. This year my family came up for the week before Christmas, and I had to make Christmas dinner. I was asked to make the game hens. 9 game hens. One for each of us. Great. Here's the recipe (only for 3 game hens, if you want more, do math).


3 hens, thawed, rinsed, and butterflied ($2.69 each)
salt to taste
pepper to taste (Aldi sells salt and pepper, but I don't know for how much)
1/2 cup defrosted orange juice concentrate ($1.09 per can)
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar (This is a specialty item and not always available $1.99 for 16.9 oz.)
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil  ($3.49 per 16.9 oz.)
2 teaspoons dried rosemary ($0.99)

Thaw, rinse, and butterfly the hens. These things take forever to thaw. I bought them on a Wednesday, put them in an old beer cooler with no ice or other coolant and they were still frozen in places by Friday. Do not expect to thaw them in the fridge overnight. You have been warned. Once you have thawed the little buggers and removed them from their plastic cocoons, rinse them and pat dry. You now have to butterfly them. Do this in an area away from other food and sanitize it when you are finished with everything. If you have never done this, it is a pretty easy process. The long and short of it is that you cut their spine out. I said it was easy, I said nothing about pretty. If you know how to butterfly a bird, skip to the cooking.

Start with your happy, thawed, raw little bird. He'll look like this:

First thing you'll have to do is position the hen so that all its friends can watch you butcher it. Next get some kitchen sheers and grab the butt end of the hen.You may notice a little tab, this is the end of the spine. Grab the tab and start cutting along one side of the spine.

Cut from the butt hole (heh) to where the head used to be. You will be cutting through the ribs next to the spine.

Next grab the leg and cut down the other side of the spine. At this point the other hens may try to turn away in disgust. Reposition them.

Now you have the spine, throw it away, or use it to make stock or something. I throw them away because I am wasteful.

Next flip the invertebrate hen over and press down on it with the palm of your hand. This is to further humiliate the now spineless hen and terrify the hen onlookers. There is some other practical reason to do this, but I can't be bothered to write it down now.

You now have a butterflied hen.

Salt and pepper the hens liberally. Now begin making the marinade. Yes, this is a marinade. If you are making this in the hope for a quick meal, you will be disappointed. Deal with it. Luckily they do not need to marinate overnight, they can, but they don't have to. I marinate them about 3 hours, but first I make the marinade.

Combine the oil, balsamic, rosemary and frozen orange juice concentrate in a bowl and stir to combine. Put the butterflied hens in a gallon sized freezer bag and add the marinade. When you close the bags, get as much of the air out as you can and try to get the marinade over as much of the hens as you can.

Put your birds in the fridge and do something that takes three hours. I suggest watching "The Towering Inferno" and then having a brief discussion as to why Paul Newman and Steve McQueen never followed it up with a buddy comedy called "The Architect and The Fire Chief" where they worked/lived together in a pizza parlor/loft.

When you are ready to start cooking your birds, preheat your oven to 425 and place the hens three each on baking sheet. Cover the hens with some of the marinade, reserving some for basting.

Pop the hens into the center of the oven for 15 minutes. Open the oven and bast the hens, reducing the heat to 375. In another 15 minutes baste again. Keep them in for another 15 minutes and you're done. If you notice the skin getting too brown at any time, you can put some loose foil over the hens. Set them aside to cool a bit.

There you have it. Plate, serve, eat.

I realize this is a long post with the recipe spread out over more surface area that you might like, so here's an abridged version:

O. B. C. G. H.

3 hens, thawed, rinsed, and butterflied
salt to taste
pepper to taste
1/2 cup defrosted orange juice concentrate
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
2 tsp dried rosemary

Salt and pepper hens. Combine everything else into a bowl. Pour marinade over hens and refrigerate.Watch a Paul Newman movie. Preheat oven to 425. Put hens 3 to a baking sheet and cover with marinade. In 15 minutes take the heat down to 375 and baste. 15 minutes later baste. 15 minutes later done.

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