My friend Luke Winter came over for dinner several days ago. Besides his deep love for haggis and eggs in a basket, he also has an affinity for photography. He is quite the talent actually, you should check his work out: http://www.dyroxy.com/photos/
He also took the photos for today's post.
Unfortunately for Luke I wasn't going to stuff a sheep's stomach with heart, liver and lungs. What I did have though was a perfectly succulent roasted cornish hen that I most lovingly massaged with compound butter and accompanied with an aromatic epazote and white wine sauce.
First off, preheat your oven to 450F. Next, rinse your hen and pat it dry.
Let's work on that compound butter which is nothing more than butter with supplementary ingredients. Make sure your NON-SALTED butter is room temperature. Mince two cloves of garlic, a bit of ginger, a 1/4 cup of cilantro and the zest of 1 lime. Mix with the butter until well incorporated.
Now to the fun part where we get to massage our eager hen. Carefully separate the skin of the hen from the breast without tearing it. I used the back of a spoon and that worked just fine.
Once that's done, carefully massage and spread the compound butter under the skin until you cover most of the hen. You can practice your massaging on a loved one prior to this step if you're lacking confidence. Butter is optional.
Salt & pepper the cavity, add some crushed garlic cloves, thyme and lemon slices.
Slice some carrots, toss in olive oil and Salt-N-Pepa. Listen to this at the same time: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4vaN01VLYSQ
The carrots will act as a bed for your hen. The idea is to allow some separation from the pan to allow the skin to get crispy and brown all the way through.
Place in a pan or tray along with the hen. Rub some oil on the skin, salt-n-pepa, and mexican oregano. Mexican oregano has a more savoury and earthy flavour that will pair nicely with the epazote.
I was completely mesmerized by Luke's tales of castles and ponies that I forgot to tuck in the wings to prevent them for burning. They didn't burn, but you should still tuck them in. If you have some twine you can also tie the legs to compact the bird and allow for even cooking. Honestly, the hen came out very nicely without this but it certainly won't hurt for you to do it.
Toss it in the oven and after 20 minutes, turn the heat down to 400F. It should take around one hour to cook. You can pierce the thickest part of the thigh and if the juices run clear, your golden.
Every 20 minutes or so, take your bird out and baste it several times. This will maintain it plump and juicy.
While your bird is dancing to salt-n-pepa in the oven we can start our epazote sauce.
Let's talk about epazote. It is an herb native to Mexico which has a strong aroma that resembles fennel or anise, on steroids. It is also used for medicinal purposes, especially for stomach ailments.
Start by finely dicing onion and garlic. Sweat them with a bit of butter and toss in the gizzards and the neck. There's no way you should throw them out, they will add mucho sabor.
Once this has sweated add a 1/2 cup of white wine and reduce, add a cup of tomato sauce along with the epazote and a handful of cilantro. Simmer for 15 minutes, remove neck and gizzards, blitz and strain.
Return to a simmer, pour in a splash of cider vinegar and adjust seasoning. Right before serving add a Tbsp of heavy cream to thicken the sauce and give it richness.
Once your bird is finished, let it rest for 5 minutes so the juices settle. You will find your carrots to be beautifully caramelized. Ladle your epazote and wine sauce, place some carrots and the hen.
Under the nicely roasted skin you will find gorgeous steamed herbs from the compound butter. It's like unwrapping a Christmas present. Luke said the experience was much alike undoing a bra for the first time. YOU BE THE JUDGE.