Spatchcocked Cornish Game Hen
January 16, 2011
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Like many culinary terms, spatchcock can have a number of meanings. It seems to have originally been a noun derived from dispatched cock used to describe a poussin or game bird that has been butterflied for grilling, i.e. a spatchcock. Now it is most often used as a verb meaning to butterfly a small chicken or game hen. Sometimes it is used, erroneously in my opinion, to refer to cooking such a butterflied bird under a weight such as a brick or in a panini press. In this recipe it means simply that I have dispatched a Cornish game hen in a manner that will cause it to grill quickly. Spatchcocking is not particularly difficult; it consists of removing the backbone and sternum of the bird then flattening it and, optionally, tucking the drumsticks into slits in the skin. However it is somewhat difficult to describe in words so I recommend a video. (This one from HuckshutTV is particularly good because of its porno-flick sound track—but G-rated.) Once you have spatchcocked your bird, you can apply whatever seasoning you prefer and grill it over charcoal or under the broiler as I have done (because the grill is under a foot of snow). I used nothing but black pepper and some smoked salt that my niece-in-law, Sara, gave me for Christmas. Since I was going to have to heat up the oven anyway I served the hen with roasted root vegetables. You can use whatever vegetables you like; I used potatoes, beets, carrots, and parsnips. Other possibilities are turnips, rutabagas, or sweet potatoes. Small onions are good as well but parboil them first. Generally I like to use 2 parts potatoes to 1 part each of the other vegetables. In the summer I add chopped fresh rosemary to the garlic and oil.
- 1½ pound assorted root vegetables
- Olive oil, see directions
- 3 or 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tsp. kosher salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1 or 2 Cornish game hens, about 2 ½ pounds total weight
- 1 Tbsp. butter, melted
- Smoked salt or more kosher salt
Preheat the oven to 400° (375° for convection). Peel or scrub the vegetables. (I usually scrub organic potatoes and carrots but peel conventionally raised ones; beets and parsnips need to be peeled in either case.) Cut the vegetables into pieces about 1-inch on a side. (I cut the beets a bit smaller because they take longer to cook.) Put the olive oil in a large bowl and add the garlic, 1 tsp. of the salt, and a generous grind of pepper. Add the vegetables and toss to coat thoroughly. Turn the vegetables out onto a sheet pan or into a roasting pan scraping any remaining oil and garlic on top of them. Place in the oven and bake for 45 minutes to an hour turning now and then to prevent burning. If your oven has the broiler on top and you are doing the chicken under it, put it in after the vegetables have been roasting for about 30 minutes.
If your broiler has a browning rack, place it in the oven with the vegetables. Spatchcock the game hen(s). Brush on both sides with melted butter. Season with smoked salt and pepper. When the vegetables have been roasting for 30 minutes, preheat the broiler. When hot put the hen(s) into the broiler. If you have a browning rack start with the skin side down; otherwise start with the skin side nearest the heat source. After 8 to 10 minutes, turn the hen and continue broiling for another 8 to 10 minutes or until done.