Sometimes a few kind words from an old friend can really validate the work you do. Several weeks ago while on the east coast this is exactly what happened to me. My friend, evidently an avid follower of La Bella Sorella, enthusiastically recalled many of the recipes I have been sharing for the past two years. Her only request – more fig dishes and this is how Cornish Hens with Figs came to fruition.
Readers take advantage of the short season for fresh figs and please don’t limit yourself to appetizer and dessert dishes. Fresh figs are the perfect compliment to roasted and grilled meats. After a visit to my local butcher and seeing those tiny, rosy organic hens in the case, I knew that a marriage with figs would soon be arranged in my kitchen.
Cornish Hens are meaty, moist, and just right for entertaining as each guest can have their own leg, thigh, wing, and breast. They are simple to handle for the chef, cutting in half easily with a kitchen sheers. Seasoning with salt & freshly ground pepper along with a bit of fresh thyme prepares the tender flesh for grilling. Cornish Hens with Figs starts with grilling the birds to get those manly grill marks and distinct open flame flavor, then finished off in the oven to insure that they are evenly cooked.
The fig sauce can be prepared a day ahead and reserved in the refrigerator. The sauce is not difficult, but takes a little time and some care. The scent of the thyme introduced in seasoning the hens is repeated in the fig sauce.
A busy week and no time to fuss with sauces, the story of my life, simply prepare the hens as described and serve with with the seared figs & some fresh thyme. Reserve the sauce preparation for a less frantic time.
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- 2 organic Cornish Hens
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Bunch of fresh thyme
- 14 ripe fresh Mission Figs, trimmed and halved
- Extra virgin olive oil
- 1 Tbs. Balsamic vinegar
- 1 clove of garlic, peeled & crushed
- ¼ cup dry white wine
- ¼ to ½ cup of chicken stock or water
- Good quality local honey
- Fresh thyme or herbal flowers to garnish the dish
- Prepare the hens by splitting them in half using the backbone as a guide, a kitchen sheers is excellent for doing this. Pat the hens dry and begin to season using some of the fresh thyme first. Insert a few sprigs of the fresh thyme under the skin of the hens in the breast and thigh areas. Season liberally with the salt and freshly ground black pepper. This may be done early in the day then refrigerated.
- Heat the 1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil in a small saucepan over medium heat, add 16 fig halves, sauté until soft. Add the clove of crushed garlic and 3 to 4 thyme sprigs and continue cooking until the figs become glossy and some brown bits appear at the bottom of the saucepan. Add the tablespoon of Balsamic vinegar and white wine to the pan and simmer gently until the figs begin to break down significantly. Remove from the heat and cool completely.
- Remove the crushed garlic clove and thyme sprigs which are now stalks from the fig compote. Use an immersion blender to puree the figs, add ¼ cup of the chicken stock or water along with 1 tablespoon of honey and bring the mixture back to a simmer. If the mixture seems too thick, add a bit more stock or water and simmer for an additional 5 minutes. Pass the contents through a sieve to remove any seeds. Taste for seasoning and add salt and freshly ground pepper along with more honey if desired. The fig sauce may be set aside or refrigerated at this point.
- Remove the seasoned hens from the refrigerator 1 hour before planning to cook.
- Preheat the grill burners to high for 20 minutes or long enough to get the grates burning hot. Preheat the oven to 400º. Remove the fig sauce from the refrigerator if needed. Using paper toweling pat the cornish hen halves until they are completely dry, this will insure that they do not stick to the grill and brown rather than steam.
- Once the grill is red hot, turn the burners to medium and place the hens skin side down on the rack. After 1½ to 2 minutes adjust the position of the grill to make cross hatch grill marks. Repeat with the second side and place the hens on a roasting sheet large enough to accommodate all of them without crowding. Place the hens into the preheated oven skin side up for about 10 minutes or until the juices run clear.
- Warm the fig sauce over low heat.
- In the meantime, heat 2 tablespoons of extra olive oil in a non-stick saute pan. Season the remaining fig halves with salt and pepper. Once the oil is hot, add the fig halves, cut side down to the hot oil along with a few thyme sprigs and a tablespoon or two of honey. Heat the figs through, getting a nice sheen on the cut side of the fig. Set aside, remove the thyme sprigs.
- Once the cornish hens have been cooked and removed from the oven, allow them to rest for 5 minutes. Add any juices from the pan to the warming fig sauce, whisking to combine well.
- Platter or individually plate the cornish hen, skin side up with a spoon full of the sauce on top, and a scattering of the fig halves. Some fresh thyme adds to the decor of the plate.