For those of us on boats, the holidays tend to look a little different than they did on land. Maybe there’s a rum punch in your hand instead of a pumpkin spice latte and maybe you’re gallivanting around in your cut-offs and flip flops instead of all your landlubber friends who at this time of year are all tucked in tight in their down coats and fuzzy boots. In the galley, though, I always find I still crave the same traditional celebratory comfort foods as I did on land. It doesn’t matter if it’s 85 degrees and sunny, I still yearn for the succulent roast meats, the hearty stews, and the sweet treats.
There is always a happy middle ground, of course, and for Thanksgiving it finds itself in the Cornish hen. The Cornish hen is kind of like a kid sister to a roast chicken and maybe more like the zesty grandchild to the traditional fifteen-pound Thanksgiving turkey that tends to be just a bit too much for a galley oven. Cornish hens are widely available in the freezer section of most US-based grocery stores as well as those throughout the Caribbean (I’ve even found them in the more remote islands of the Bahamas!) and they have the added benefit of being fully cooked in a fraction of the amount of time that it takes to cook a turkey, so you save on propane and time spent sweating in the galley.
To make up for what it lacks in size, I pair my hens with a robust savory-sweet sauce featuring coffee, lemon juice, and drippings from the delicate roast birds. The sauce is chocolate-y in color, sultry in its texture, and some might say worthy of plate licking. Go ahead, I won’t judge, in fact I’d encourage it. For a more complete take on a Turkey – er, Hen – Day feast, serve this dish alongside wild rice or mushroom dressing and a simple side salad. And don’t forget the pumpkin pie.
Roast Cornish Hens with Coffee Lemon Glaze
Prep time: 10 mins
Cook time: 50 mins
2 cornish game hens, about one pound each
1 lemon, quartered
2 cloves of garlic, smashed
4 teaspoons of kosher salt (or 2 teaspoons of regular sea or table salt), divided in half plus more to taste
1 teaspoon of fresh ground black pepper
¼ teaspoon of smoked paprika
¼ teaspoon of finely ground poultry seasoning*
4 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
1-1/2 cups of weak black coffee
1-1/2 cups of chicken stock (or water with bouillon)
3 tablespoons of butter
1 heaping tablespoon of coconut (or brown) sugar
2 tablespoons of worchestershire sauce
Remove hens from refrigerator roughly 30 minutes before roasting and remove packaging. Blot moisture from the skins using paper towels and let rest on countertop.
While hens are resting, preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.
Rub each hen with a smashed garlic clove, then stuff clove inside the cavity of the hens along with two of the lemon quarters. (Leave the remaining lemon for the sauce.) Sprinkle hen all over with 2 teaspoons of kosher salt, pepper, smoked paprika, and poultry seasoning, if using. Tie legs together with kitchen twine. Coat hens with olive oil and place in a cast iron skillet or roasting pan.
Roast for 10 minutes, then deglaze the pan with coffee and chicken stock. Baste hen with coffee mixture and continue cooking, basting every 10 minutes or so, for another 40 minutes, or until internal temperature of the bird registers 165 degrees F, skin is golden, and juices run clear. Once hens have come to temperature, remove from oven and set hens aside on a plate for 10 minutes to rest and redistribute juices.
While hens are resting, place skillet containing coffee and drippings liquid on the stovetop set over high heat. Whisk in butter, sugar, Worcestershire sauce, and the remaining 2 teaspoons of kosher salt. Bring to a boil and cook liquid until volume is reduced by about half and liquid has thickened, about 8 minutes. Add juice of reserved half lemon and taste for flavor balance. Adjust with additional salt or lemon if you prefer. Serve in a gravy boat or small bowl alongside hens or spoon over hens just before serving.
Recipe notes: Depending on where you’re located on your Leopard catamaran, you may not have access to seasonings like poultry seasoning or smoked paprika. Feel free to substitute with fresh herbs in the cavity such as rosemary, thyme, big thyme, or sage or, for a simplified version, simply omit these seasonings all together.
For planning purposes, you can either plan on one hen per person or one half hen per person. I prefer to do a whole hen per person as it makes for a more elaborate presentation (and leftovers!) but a half hen is about right as far as being a single portion.
I’ve written this recipe for two, but it can easily be scaled up or down. Depending on the size of your skillet or roasting pan, you may need to cook in batches, covering cooked birds with aluminum foil so they stay warm. And note that if you’re cooking just one hen, it’ll cook a bit faster than if you’re cooking two hens, which will cook faster than four hens, so check the bird’s progress often.
*Recipe and blog written and provided by Brooke Bass. For more delicious inspiration, check out Brooke's Blog: Chocolate and Marrow