(Poules Cornish aux Raisins au Vermouth)
Traditionally, this classic French dish is made with tender poussins. Poussin is a butcher’s term for a young chicken, less than 28 days old at slaughter and usually weighing under a pound. In the United States, poussin is an alternative name for a small-sized cross-breed chicken called Rock Cornish game hen, developed in the late 1950s, which is twice as old and twice as large as the typical French poussin.
The aromatic herbs and the grapes combine to flavor the vermouth, which makes a beautiful sauce that accompanies these tiny birds.
Serves 4 to 6
Four 1-pound oven ready Cornish hens
4 Tablespoons unsalted butter, softened, plus more for basting
2 small lemons, cut in halves
2 shallots, chopped
2 whole cloves garlic, lightly crushed
4 Tablespoon chopped fresh parsley, plus more for garnish
1 Tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
1 teaspoon chopped fresh chives
1/2 pound seedless sweet white grapes
1/2 cup dry vermouth
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1/4 cup heavy cream
Salt, to taste
Ground black pepper, to taste
2 Tablespoons pine nuts
Preheat the oven at 375°F.
Spread the nuts on a baking sheet and bake , stirring occasionally, until golden-brown, 5 to 8 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool.
Increase the oven temperature to 400°F.
Wash and dry the hens. Spread 1 1/2 tablespoons the softened butter all over the hens. Add the remaining butter to a small bowl and stir in the shallot,garlic, parsley, thyme,tarragon and chives.
Place a quarter of the shallot mixture and 1/2 of one lemon into the cavity of each hen. Using kitchen twine, truss the hens up and place them in a shallow roasting pan. Add about 1/4 cup of water to pan. Roast the hens, basting often with butter , for 45 to 55 minutes , or until the juices run clear when thickest part of chicken is pierced and temperature on instant read thermometer reads 180°F. Transfer to warmed serving platter, cover and keep warm.
Skim off most of the fat from the pan. Add the grapes and vermouth. Place the pan over low heat for a minutes to warm the grapes. Using a slotted spoon, remove the grapes and sprinkle them around the hens. Stir the cornstarch into the cream. Add the pan juices. Cook over gentle heat for a few minutes, stirring until sauce thickens. Taste and adjust the seasoning, if needed.
Pour the sauce around the hens. Sprinkle with toasted pine nuts and garnish with chopped parsley and serve.
This dish serves 4 if the hens are left intact. To serve a party of 6, simply split the hens in half and serve with the sauce and grapes, accordingly
In place of parsley and tarragon, other herbs such as chervil, sage or oregano. For another variation, sliced peaches or apricots, diced zucchini , asparagus or peas.
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