For the Birds

SAVEUR - - Range -

Salt bak­ing small fowl like Cor­nish hens, young chick­ens, or even duck legs helps to re­tain mois­ture and keep the meat suc­cu­lent. A sec­ond salt-free bake pro­vides a lac­quered skin with­out the risk of dry­ing out the meat

Salt-baked Cor­nish Game Hens with Shal­lots and Or­ange Sauce SERVES 4 Ac­tive: 50 min. • To­tal: 1 hr. 30 min.

Stuff­ing these petite birds with win­ter herbs cre­ates an aro­matic steam that fla­vors the meat as it cooks. A sec­ond round of roast­ing and a layer of sauce leaves them juicy and sweet. FOR THE HENS: Four 1-lb. Cor­nish game hens Freshly ground black pep­per 2 cups herbs, such as pars­ley, thyme, rose­mary, and sage, chopped 6 lb. (19½ cups) coarse sea salt or coarse kosher salt 4 large egg whites 20 medium shal­lots FOR THE OR­ANGE SAUCE: 2 medium shal­lots, peeled and finely chopped ¼ cup ex­tra-vir­gin olive oil 1 Tbsp. all-pur­pose flour 1 cup or­ange juice 1 cin­na­mon stick 1 Pre­heat the oven to 425°F. Line a rimmed bak­ing sheet with foil.

2 Pre­pare the hens: Rinse the hens and pat dry. Sea­son the cav­i­ties with pep­per, and stuff each with ½ cup of the herbs. Stuff each of the cav­i­ties with a ball of foil to keep salt from en­ter­ing, then pull the legs closed and truss with kitchen twine.

3 In a large bowl, add the salt, re­main­ing herbs, and egg whites; mix with your hands un­til the salt feels like slightly damp sand. Spread about half of the salt in an even layer about ½-inch thick across the bak­ing sheet, pat­ting it down evenly. Ar­range the hens 2 inches apart on the salt and dis­trib­ute the 20 whole, un­peeled shal­lots around them. Cover com­pletely with re­main­ing salt, pat­ting it down in an even layer. Gen­tly, and with­out shift­ing the packed salt, trans­fer to the oven, and bake un­til the hens are just cooked through and the salt forms a hard, lightly browned shell, 40 min­utes.

4 Mean­while, make the sauce: In a medium pot, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the chopped shal­lots and cook un­til soft­ened, 2 min­utes. Stir in the flour, or­ange juice, and cin­na­mon stick. Bring to a boil and cook, stir­ring con­stantly, un­til thick­ened, about 2 min­utes. Re­move and set aside.

5 Re­move the bak­ing sheet from the oven and raise the heat to 450°F. Use a wooden mal­let or ham­mer to care­fully crack the salt shell. Un­cover the shal­lots and trans­fer to a bowl; keep warm. Pull the large chunks of crust away from the hens, then brush away any salt gran­ules that cling to the skin. Dis­card the twine, foil, and herbs. Gen­tly wipe away any re­main­ing salt.

6 Trans­fer the hens, breast-side up, to a large cast-iron skil­let. Brush with the sauce and bake, bast­ing oc­ca­sion­ally, un­til the sauce is thick­ened and glossy, 8–10 min­utes. Peel the shal­lots and serve warm with the hens.

Don’t skip the shal­lots— they come out sweet and jammy after bak­ing in a salt cave.

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