Brace yourselves, I’m about to voice a controversial opinion. I feel the same way about turkey as Shania Twain feels about Brad Pitt: it don’t impress me much.
Sorry, not sorry.
Sure, I’ve had some good turkey in my day but for the most part, I find it to be dry and flavourless. I do have one turkey recipe that consistently yields juicy and delicious meat – probably because I stuff it with hot Italian sausage, fistfuls of herbs, egg bread and pistachios – but you’ll have to wait until December to get your hands on that recipe.
In the meantime, I have an AMAZING turkey alternative for you: Cornish Hens! And not just any old hens, we’re talking about birds that you’ve hand-massaged into submission with a softened compound butter of olives and thyme. Let me extol the virtues of this recipe for you:
- It’s cheap! I bought my hens (fresh) from Saslove’s Meat Market on Wellington and they were only $7 each.
- You won’t be eating leftovers for three weeks. One hen serves two people, making this a great option for anyone hosting an intimate Thanksgiving dinner for two, four or six.
- The finished product is a flavour explosion of mind-bogglingly succulent meat.
I could go on, but I’ll let you make this for yourself and discover why this dish is worth writing home about.
N.B. This recipe suggests that your bird will be done in 40-45 minutes. In my case, the birds weren’t cooked through until the 65 minute mark. Look in on them in five-minute intervals after 40 minutes and let your electronic meat thermometer be your guide.
I'm going to be honest with you, massaging the compound butter under the skin of the birds is finicky work. BUT the resulting meat is so juicy and tasty, your efforts will be handsomely rewarded. To avoid tearing the skin, use your index finger to gently loosen the skin from the breasts and legs before putting a small amount of butter on your fingertip and smoothing between the meat and skin.
- ¼ cup butter softened, plus 2 tbsp melted
- 8 oil-cured black olives pitted and finely chopped
- 1 clove garlic finely chopped
- 2 tbsp chopped fresh thyme
- Salt and freshly ground pepper
- 3 Cornish hens each 1½ lbs
- 2 tsp butter softened
- 2 tsp flour
- ½ cup dry white wine
- ½ cup chicken stock
- 1 tbsp chopped fresh thyme
Preheat oven to 450°F (230°C).
To prepare hens, combine softened butter, olives, garlic and thyme in a small bowl. Season with salt and pepper. Divide butter mixture between hens, working under the skin with your index fi nger, to cover breasts and top of legs. Tie legs together with kitchen twine and place on rack in a large roasting pan. Brush with melted butter and season with salt.
Place in oven and immediately reduce heat to 375°F (190°C). Roast for 40 to 45 minutes (in my case this took 65 minutes), or until a meat thermometer inserted in thickest part of leg registers 160°F (70°C). Remove to a board, tent loosely with foil while preparing sauce.
To make sauce, mix butter and flour together in a small bowl. Place roasting pan over high heat, pour in wine and stir to scrape up brown bits in bottom of pan. Bring to a boil and reduce by half. Add chicken stock and return to a boil. Add butter and fl our mixture, whisk to combine and continue boiling for 1 minute longer or until slightly thickened. Remove from heat, stir in chopped thyme and check for seasoning.
Carve hens in half through the breast bone and spoon a small amount of sauce over each half.
Recipe from: St. Onge, Christopher. "Thyme & Olive Butter Roasted Cornish Hens." Food & Drink. Spring 2012.