Yesterday’s salad was lovely, non? Oui…and so, on to the main course: Cornish game hens baked with lavender. I served them with very simply prepared french green beans, sauteed in a combination of equal amounts butter and olive oil, steamed until al dente (if you can apply that to vegetables), and salted and peppered to taste. Together with a nice hunk of french bread to sop up all the juices and a lovely dry white wine…a happy new year indeed. (But do save room for dessert…coming soon.)
Crush 2 teaspoons culinary lavender and a healthy teaspoon’s worth of fresh thyme leaves in a mortar with pestle or a small bowl with a metal ice cream scoop (see link for explanation of galley improvisation).
Combine with 6 tablespoons softened butter, 1 teaspoon grated or finely chopped lemon zest, and a teaspoon or two each of salt and pepper. Mix this all together thoroughly. Preheat your galley oven to 475 degrees.
Arrange four Cornish game hens on a baking pan that will fit in your galley oven. Yep, this is a Galley Pirates Patented Tip: this pan is not big enough for real chefs or cooking sites, but it fits four hens and it fits in my galley oven so it is the pan for me! Starting from the tuchus-end (i.e. away from the wings, the end that the legs are pointing toward), ever so gently and carefully work your fingers up between the skin and meat of both halves of the hen, across the tops of the breast meat and down around the drumstick. This is a tactic that, when it becomes familiar, is no big deal…you will do it without thinking, while humming and thinking of other things. But your first few times it’s like open heart surgery, because you are working very hard not to break the skin, but there are membranes between the skin and points of the carcass or meat that you have to break with your finger tips to get to the next “compartment”. I don’t know how better to describe this…just get between skin and meat at that back end and feel your way, trying diligently not to puncture the skin, but working as far along the meaty parts as you can to create pockets between skin and meat.
From here on out it’s easy: grab hunks of the butter-herb mixture with your fingers, and work it up into those pockets between the skin and meat of the hens. Carefully work the whole butter mixture into the approximately 16 “compartments: two breasts and two legs of four birds. Just get as much butter/herb as far into those birds as you can. When you’ve done that, use your greasy hands to grease the outer skin of each hen, adding some olive oil if you’ve exhausted your butter supply…you’re really just moistening the outer skin. Then rub the outer skin with lemon halves and salt and pepper them. Roast in the preheated oven for between 25-35 minutes, or until the thigh meat registers 170 degrees with a meat thermometer. (Or, honestly, until they look all nicely browned and shriveled, a sign of cooking, as below, and a wing and leg pulled upon move around fairly loosely.)
Lift the hens from the baking sheet and let them sit while you reduce the sauce.
Pour the liquids from the roasting pan into a small saucepan and set over medium high heat. Add 1/4 cup white wine and simmer until reduced to 1/2 cup, about 10 minutes.
Garnish each hen with a few lavender blooms and thyme leaves and serve with the reduced sauce, and bread to soak it all up. Savor not having to make choices about what part of the bird you want — Thanksgiving and Christmas turkey fights gone by — because this one is all your own. Pick bones clean, eat crispy, herb-encrusted skin, pull meat but leave some behind to be simmered with carcasses for stock. Just…enjoy…and we’ll see you for dessert tomorrow!