I hate roasting chickens. HATE it. I have only ever made one attempt to roast an entire chicken in my life. I was 14 and it was Mother's Day. I wanted to make something really special. At the time I was madly in love with Tyler Florence (Ok... I still kind of am....), I found his recipe for tarragon lemon roasted chicken. Whole roasted chicken wasn't something we did in our house so I thought it was a great idea. I think it would have turned out fine, except that I let my dad help. He left it in the over longer that he should have because he didn't think the stated time was long enough. I was showering and not there to prevent him from changing the timer. Not to mention I was totally preoccupied with the other components of the meal. Needless to say the white meat was dry... really dry. That kind of dry where a single, tiny, lone bite will suck all the moisture out of your mouth and leave you feeling like the Mojave Desert for days after. Then my dad had the gall to complain about it! He complained about the acidity from the lemons, the slight licorice flavor or the tarragon, and the dryness. I was mortified. I haven't roasted another chicken since.
However, about 5 years ago, I discovered the wonders of Cornish Game Hens (sometimes called rock hens). They are fantastic. Don't let "game" scare you; there is no gaminess at all. The meat tastes like a good chicken (as opposed to the hormone jacked, watered down chicken the US is used to.) A normal game hen is 20-24 oz. and they are sold individually. Usually they are right at $2.50 each. Never seen a Cornish hen.... just look a little harder in your regular grocery store. Obviously near the poultry, they are individually wrapped and usually frozen. The last time I bought Cornish hens (last week....) I got them at Walmart.... seriously. Because they are so small, they are very easy to roast whole. Not to mention impressive. The lemon thyme flavor is great because it is season neutral and may be paired with a variety of cuisines like French, German, Cajun/Creole (which is what I did), American, and even Spanish.
2 Cornish game hens, thawed if frozen
4 Tbsp butter, room temp
1 Tbsp dried thyme
zest of 1 large lemon (about 2 tsp)
salt and pepper
Mix butter, thyme, and lemon zest together.
Liberally salt and pepper the hens. Remember to do the cavity too. Place a lemon wedge inside the cavity.
Fold the wings of the hen underneath the bird. They may fight a little, but just use gentle pressure to fold the first joint (wing tip) back and under. Tie the legs together with a little bit of kitchen twine. Or you can fully truss the hens.
Smear the butter mixture over the hens. Use a finger to separate the skin from the breast to create a pocket. Smear the butter inside that pocket.
Place on a roasting rack in a pan.
Bake at 350 deg F for 1 hr to 1 hr 15 min, until the juice between the thigh joint and the main body runs clear. Let rest for about 10 min. Serve. (Carved into 4 pieces each: breast/wing and thigh/leg)
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