Cornish game hens are really just young chickens; they’re not hunted game at all. Their diminutive size is perfect for the cook who can’t commit to a larger chicken or turkey, and they have a light, succulent chicken flavor. Feel free to substitute another stuffing for the millet version.
Special equipment: Be sure to have at least 4 (12-inch) pieces of butcher’s twine and 4 toothpicks assembled before you begin.
Game plan: The stuffing can be prepared up to a day in advance, cooled, and refrigerated in a container with a tightfitting lid.
This recipe was featured as part of our Halloween Horror Movie Menu.
- 1Combine currants and sherry in a small bowl; set aside.
- 2Heat a medium saucepan fitted with a lid over medium heat until hot, about 2 minutes. Add millet and cook, stirring frequently, until it begins to smell toasted, about 5 minutes. Add broth and salt and bring to a lively simmer. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer until millet is tender, about 20 minutes. Remove from heat (keep covered) and let steam 10 minutes. Fluff with a fork; set aside.
- 3Meanwhile, place pancetta in a medium frying pan over medium heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until crisp and the fat is rendered, about 10 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer pancetta to a small paper-towel-lined plate; set aside. Reserve 1 tablespoon of fat in the pan and discard the rest.
- 4Return the pan to low heat, add celery, shallot, sage, and thyme, and season generously with pepper. Cook, stirring frequently, until celery has softened, about 10 minutes. Add currant-sherry mixture and cook until the liquid is almost evaporated, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat, stir in reserved millet and pancetta, and season with salt and pepper as needed. Transfer stuffing to a large plate, spread into a flat layer, and refrigerate until cool, at least 20 minutes.
For the hens:
- 1Heat the oven to 425°F and arrange a rack in the middle. Fit a roasting pan with a rack; set aside.
- 2Remove the hen innards and discard. Rinse the hens inside and out with cold water and pat dry with paper towels. Rub all over with olive oil. Generously season all over, including inside the cavities, with salt and pepper. Position the hens, breast side up, on a cutting board and place a quarter of the stuffing (about 1/2 cup) inside each cavity. Close the cavities by sticking 1 toothpick horizontally through either side of the opening. For each hen, wind a piece of twine around each leg once and then tie the ends together. Tuck the wing tips behind the wing shoulders to form a triangle. Divide 1 tablespoon of the butter into 4 pieces and smear 1 piece over the breast of each hen.
- 3Place the hens in a single row—side by side, breast side up, and in alternating directions—on the rack set in the roasting pan. Pour 1 1/2 cups of the broth and 1/2 cup of the sherry into the roasting pan. Roast, basting every 15 minutes, until an instant-read thermometer registers 165°F when inserted into the thickest part of the thigh, about 1 hour 15 minutes. Transfer the hens, being careful not to rip the skin, from the pan to a cutting board to rest.
- 4Meanwhile, remove the rack from the roasting pan. Place the roasting pan across two burners over medium-high heat. Once the pan juices are simmering, deglaze the pan with the remaining 1/2 cup sherry and scrape up any browned bits with a flat spatula. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the alcohol smell has burned off, about 3 to 5 minutes.
- 5Strain the mixture through a fine-mesh strainer set over a medium frying pan; discard the solids. Place the frying pan over medium-high heat and add the remaining 1/2 cup chicken broth. Simmer until reduced by a third, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat, add the remaining 1 tablespoon butter, and swirl until melted and evenly incorporated. Taste the sauce and season with salt and pepper as needed. Remove the twine and toothpicks from the hens and serve with the sauce.