Wine With Grilled Cornish Game Hens
by Paul Lukacs and Marguerite Thomas
Inspiration sometimes strikes at unforeseen moments. The culinary muse came calling for us recently when we were at the gym, flicking through various TV programs in an effort to relieve the boredom of the elliptical machine. After skipping past the reality shows, the sports re-casts, and the millionth re-run of 'Everybody Loves Raymond,' we landed on America's Test Kitchen. If you haven't seen this Public Television show, it's worth checking out for its basic-and sometimes inspiring-recipes and culinary techniques. On this particular afternoon the host, Cook's Magazine editor Christopher Kimball, and his on-screen test cook Julia Collin Davison, were making grilled Cornish game hens with an Asian barbecue glaze. It sounded so delicious that we stopped at the grocery store on the way home, picked up a couple of hens, and prepared them that night for dinner. What we particularly liked about this recipe, in addition to its appealing glaze, was the notion of butterflying the birds, which results in the white and dark meats cooking evenly.
We weren't at all certain what kind of wine would be best with this dish-red, white, off-dry, dry? We opened a collection of all of the above, tasted each with the hens--and then had some disagreements about the results! One of us thought that white wines, overall, best accentuated the delicate flesh of the game hens, while the other favored reds for their affinity with the grilled char flavors and the tomato in the glaze. We both, however, ranked the Pinot Noir in our lineup at the very top, and agreed that the lighter, tarter whites simply didn't have enough substance. What all of this proves, we think, is that the dish is essentially adaptable to a generous range of wines, with only a couple of caveats: too thin and/or acidic, and the wine clashes with the sweetness of the glaze; too oaky and/or tannic, and it overwhelms the dish.
To go with the game hens, we made a luscious salad with fresh orange segments, shaved fennel, avocado, and black olives, seasoned with olive oil, a little garlic, and a squeeze of lemon. It was a special supper.
Roasted Butterflied Cornish Game Hens (adapted from America's Test Kitchen)
FOR THE HENS:
1/2 cup table salt
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 teaspoon garlic powder
2 teaspoons paprika
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
FOR THE GLAZE:
¼ cup ketchup
1 tablespoon brown sugar
2 teaspoons soy sauce
2 teaspoons vinegar
2 teaspoons yellow mustard
1 garlic clove, finely minced or pressed through a garlic press
For the hens: In a large container, dissolve salt in about 2 quarts cold water. Submerge hens in the brine, adding more water if necessary to cover them. Refrigerate for 1 hour.
Meanwhile, combine sugar and spices in a small bowl. Remove birds from brine, rinse them inside and out under cold running water, and pat dry with paper towels. Using poultry shears, butterfly them (remove the backbone by cutting through the bones on either side of it; cut the breastbone by making a ¼ inch cut into the bone separating the breast halves; Lightly press on the ribs with your hands to flatten the hen).
For the Glaze: Stir all ingredients together in a small saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until mixture is thick and slightly reduced.
To cook the hens: place the birds, skin side down, over a hot grill. Cover and cook about 15 minutes, or until skin is browned and shows grill marks. Flip birds, cover them, and continue to grill for 10-15 minutes, or until thickest part of the thigh registers 160-165 degrees. Brush the birds with half the glaze, flip them, and cook another 2-3 minutes. Brush with remaining glaze, then flip and continue to grill 2-3 minutes more, or until the thickest part of the thigh registers 170-175 degrees.