The Championships at Wimbledon tennis tournament started this week and I anxiously look forward to it every year. It has an innate graciousness and elegance and is the “Grand Dame” of the four major tournaments. It is held in the beautiful town of Wimbledon, England and “Breakfast at Wimbledon” is an annual event. It got me thinking about English foods … so in honor of our friends across the pond, I thought I would feature traditional British favorites this week! Haute cuisine isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when you think of English food, it is better known more for Pub Grub. But you may be surprised how delicious some of their common dishes are and they may become new favorites for you and your family.
Cornish Game Hens originated in Cornwall, England. They are small birds that average about 2-1/2 pounds and are a delightful treat for weekend cooking or special occasions. Most of the time they are served overcooked and dry, but they can be absolutely succulent. The secret is two-fold; a dry brining process and a compound butter work together to create an amazing entrée. I have been making these birds for many years and they have witnessed some of the highlights of my life. They are a go-to for dinner parties, especially during the holidays. Maybe it is because of their size and the fact that you typically serve one bird per person, but they seem to be an indulgence and just right to create a festive mood. Add some steamed green beans tossed with some of the compound butter and sprinkled with sliced almonds, a pilaf (my Creamy Parmesan Farro would be good!), a nice bottle of wine, and I am one happy girl!
Compound butters are a cinch to make and they can turn a mundane meal into a celebration. Just combine your favorite herbs and spices and mix them into softened butter. Form into a log or pack into a container. You can make it ahead and it stores beautifully in the freezer. Put a slice on grilled steaks, stir into steamed vegetables, add to a pan sauce, or use with poultry as shown in this recipe. Any way you use it, you will love the flavorful richness a compound butter adds to everything.
Roasted Game Hens with Compound Herb Butter
Jane Evans Bonacci © 2000
Yield: about 6 to 8 servings
6 Rock Cornish game hens
4 tbsp kosher salt (2 tsp per bird)
3/4 cup unsalted butter at room temperature
2 shallots, peeled and minced finely
2 tbsp fresh rosemary, chopped
4 tbsp fresh thyme, chopped
3 tbsp fresh sage, chopped
Freshly ground black pepper
4 lemons, 1 juiced, the remaining cut in half and set aside
3 tbsp olive oil
The day before you plan to serve these birds, rinse and pat dry. Rub them with 2 tsp of kosher salt each, place in a pan, cover loosely, and refrigerate overnight. This may seem like a lot of salt, but it seasons the meat all the way through and results in a more tender bird.
The following day, preheat oven to 450°F.
Remove birds from refrigerator and pat dry inside and out. Place a lemon half in the cavity of each bird. Place them breast-side up in a baking pan with low sides. In a food processor combine the butter, shallots, rosemary, thyme, fresh sage, pepper, and a little of the lemon juice. Taste and add more lemon juice if desired.
Carefully separate the skin from the breast. Spread about 2 tbsp of herb butter between the skin and breast of each bird.* Smooth skin to cover meat. Using your clean hands, rub the olive oil all over the birds and sprinkle with a little pepper. Drizzle remaining lemon juice over the tops and place in the hot oven.
Roast at 450°F for 20 minutes. Then reduce heat to 350°F and continue roasting about 40 more minutes or until juices run clear when the thickest part of the thigh is pierced and the leg moves easily when wiggled. Total roasting time is about 1 hour. Baste occasionally with pan juices. Let stand 10 minutes before carving.
* NOTE: Place 1 tbsp of butter on either side of the breast (the skin is attached in the middle). Then working from the outside, press the butter around so that it coats the entire breast. The butter self-bastes the bird and helps keep it moist and tender.
You do not have to salt this a day ahead, but it does give you a better seasoned bird. Just bring to room temperature, put butter under the skin and bake as directed. They will still be delicious!