Cornish game hens
They are in fact not game birds at all, but chickens. Smaller, and quicker to mature for meat production, but really just a broiler chicken. The result of a cross by breeders in Connecticut between ‘Cornish Game’ and ‘Plymouth Rock’ chicken breeds, the resulting Cornish Game Hens are a more flavorful and petite alternative to your typical chicken. In my opinion the relatively small size of a mature bird makes them the perfect size for one hungry person. Most folks would probably say they can be shared by two, however. Cooking game hens sous-vide allows them to stay very and juicy while imparting delicious flavors into their tender meat.
A bird in the hand, or two in the package
The birds are often sold individually packaged and frozen in pairs. The cost is around $7-8 for a two-pack, and each bird weighs on average 1.25 lbs. Thawed and with any internal giblets removed, all you need to do is give a quick rubdown with some seasonings and throw ’em in the bag. Cook time can be around 3-4 hours but what you end up with is well worth the wait. The flesh of a bird cooked whole sous-vide is incredibly delicate and succulent.
The seasoning mixture I like to use is robust but simple. Quickly add together a bunch of different seasonings, mix them up and apply to the bird. My favorites include: salt (I like himalayan pink sea salt), ground pepper, chili powder or paprika, crushed red pepper, onion powder, garlic powder, thyme, rosemary and oregano.
As mentioned earlier, I’ll combine about 1 TBS of salt and 1 TSP of each of the other seasonings into a small jar, mix the seasonings togther and rub the bird down. I also like to coat the inner cavity of the bird.
When the bird is seasoned it is ready to be bagged and sealed. It is fine as it is, but I prefer to fill the bag and make use of the juices the birds will create. Potatoes make use of the available space.
Drippings, not to be poured down the drain
Adding a few quartered up fingerling potatoes (red or yukon gold perhaps) to the bag is a heck of a way to make use of the juices that otherwise might be neglected. I like to stuff the potatoes into the chest cavities as well as pack them in around the bird before running the vacuum sealer.
Concerning the water bath and cook time, I run the sous-vide immersion circulator/cooker at 160°F for 3 hours 30 minutes. After the water bath the birds and the potatoes are transferred to a pyrex pan and placed in a preheated oven set to 450°F for an additional 30 minutes for finishing. If you’ve got a rosemary sprig, toss it in with the potatoes. If you have spice rack rosemary that work too. Don’t have either? Not a problem, but think about picking some up for next time!
Winner winner, chicken dinner!
The game hen is going to be cooked perfectly out of the water bath but as we do with other meats, we want to finish it with direct heat. Finishing in the oven adds a nice color and texture to the bird. Once removed from the bath, the potatoes will however not be done. They’ll have great flavor but the starches will not be broken down to our desired potato texture. Their time in the oven with the bird (and further) will remedy that.
What if you like your potatoes a little more cooked or crispier than just softened flesh? In that case, remove the bird from the oven dish and wrap in foil to keep warm. Continue cooking the potatoes in the oven for an additional 15-20 minutes.
To serve, plate the bird then the potatoes. Feel free to drizzle some of the remaining drippings/juices from the bottom of the pan over top the bird and spuds. If you’re going for a less casual presentation you can truss legs together after the sous-vide water bath before moving to the oven. The entirety of the bird will have some of the most tender flesh you’ll have ever tasted. Enjoy the breasts and tenders, the thighs and legs, the wings and even the back meat!
For those interested in Pheasant, I will have a post up at a later date about cooking the absolutely amazingly flavorful ‘Chicken of the North’, as I’ve come to call then. They are slightly larger than a cornish game hen, but smaller than a chicken. They can be hunted in the wild but are also raised on farms for (usually) restaurant quality meals. If you ever get the chance to indulge in a pheasant meal, don’t miss out on it! Subscribe and stay tuned!