Alphonsine “Therese” Makowsky is credited with originally breeding the Cornish hen at a farm in Pomfret, Conn., that she owned with her husband, the artist Jacques Makowsky.
Her 2005 obituary in the San Francisco Chronicle — she was living in Danville, Calif., at the time of her death at age 92 — noted the couple had been raising and selling African guinea hens until a 1949 fire destroyed their stock. In response, the obit reported, she came up with the idea of “cross-breeding the Cornish game cocks with various chicken and game birds, including a White Plymouth Rock hen,” to create the Cornish hen. It quickly supplanted the couple’s African guinea hens in popularity, the Chronicle noted.
Cornish hens proved so chic that Victor Borge, the musical comedian, began breeding them at his home in Southbury, Conn., according to a 1958 story in The Hartford Courant. The writer of a 1960 New York Times article, “Food: Yankee hen is a hit abroad; Even a Frenchman finds Connecticut bird a treat,” marveled at how far the little birds had flown in just 11 years, from a Connecticut farm to being “served in elegant establishments around the world.” In the mid 1960s, Tyson Foods began selling Cornish hens.
The Springdale, Ark.-based poultry giant is the leading producer today, marketing an estimated two-thirds of Cornish hens produced in the United States, according to Brady Tackett, a company spokesman.
Cornish Hens Glazed With Honey And Wrapped In Bacon
4 Cornish hens
2 onions, coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons honey
12 slices bacon or pancetta
6 leeks, trimmed, chopped into 2-inch pieces
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground pepper
Heat oven to 400 degrees. Stuff the hens with onions. Brush all over with honey; cover the breast of each with 3 slices bacon or pancetta. Settle into a roasting pan.
Toss the leeks with the oil; add to the pan, tucking them in around the birds. Season with the salt and pepper to taste. Roast, 45-60 minutes. If the bacon begins to blacken, cover hens with foil.
Remove the birds from the pan; keep warm. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the leeks to a serving dish; keep warm. Tilt the pan to one side; skim away any fat. Pour a little hot water into the roasting pan; set over high heat. Heat to a boil, scraping up any crispy bits from the bottom of the pan; simmer for a few minutes. Pour the pan sauce into a gravy boat or pitcher; serve with the hens and the leeks.
Nutrition information per serving: 623 calories, 39 g fat, 11 g saturated fat, 238 mg cholesterol, 22 g carbohydrates, 44 g protein, 616 mg sodium, 3 g fiber
“Cooking Season by Season” (DK Publishing, $35).
Grilled Cornish Hens, German-Style
3 Cornish hens, split
1/2 teaspoon each: salt, pepper
1/4 cup coarse-grain German mustard
2 tablespoons German riesling
1 tablespoon honey
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
Pinch each: ground mace, ground cloves
Prepare a charcoal or gas grill for indirect-heat grilling over medium heat. Meanwhile, carefully remove as much skin as possible from the hens. Season hens with salt and pepper.
Combine the glaze ingredients in a bowl; mix thoroughly.
Cook the hen halves, bone side down, directly over the fire until lightly browned. Move them to the cooler part of the grill grate; cover. Cook, turning at midpoint, 20-25 minutes. Prick a thigh with a fork to check for doneness. If the juices run clear, move the hen halves back over the fire; brush them on both sides with the glaze. Finish them, turning often, until nicely browned on both sides.
Notes: If you can get to a grill and have a hankering for holiday cooking outdoors, try this recipe from “Texas Eats: The New Lone Star Heritage Cookbook.” (The Cornish hens can also be cooked in a grill pan or in the oven at 350 degrees.) Author Robb Walsh calls for a German riesling. Use if you have it, but a dry white wine will do. He also recommends serving this dish, based on a German recipe, with sweet-and-sour sauerkraut.
Nutrition information per serving: 460 calories, 31 g fat, 9 g saturated fat, 226 mg cholesterol, 3 g carbohydrates, 38 g protein, 461 mg sodium, 0 g fiber
Roasted Cornish Game Hens
4 to 6 tablespoons oil
1 cup fresh lemon juice
3 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
4 to 6 Rock Cornish game hens (1 to 2 pounds each), split
1/4 cup breadcrumbs
16 ounces ricotta cheese
1/4 cup grated lemon zest, no white attached
8 cloves garlic, chopped
3/4 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground pepper
3 to 5 cups chicken stock or broth
Mix the oil, lemon juice and half the rosemary. Place the hens in a shallow dish, skin side down; pour the mixture over. Marinate, refrigerated, overnight.
Toss together the breadcrumbs, ricotta, lemon rind, remaining rosemary and garlic. Season with 1/2 teaspoon salt and pepper to taste. Remove hens from marinade, reserving marinade. Gently slide fingers under the skin of each hen to release the skin from the surface. Spread the mixture evenly underneath the skins. Season the hen’s surface with remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt and pepper to taste. Move the hens to a rack over a rimmed baking sheet. Drizzle with some of the lemon marinade; refrigerate, uncovered, to dry the skin, 1 hour.
Heat oven to 400 degrees. Distribute the hens skin side up, without overlapping, in a baking pan. Roast, 1 hour. Turn birds as needed to brown all over. The hens are cooked when the thickest part of the meat registers 165 degrees on an instant-read thermometer. Remove from pan; degrease the juices.
To make a sauce, add the stock to the pan. Heat to a boil, stirring the sides and bottom of the pan. Boil until reduced to 1/2 cup per bird, about 20 minutes. Taste for seasoning. Moisten the birds; pass the remaining sauce.
“Loosening the hen’s skin and pushing the stuffing under it … aids in crisping the skin and intensifying the taste of the hen,” the authors write.
Nutrition information per serving: 543 calories, 37 g fat, 14 g saturated fat, 225 mg cholesterol, 8 g carbohydrates, 42 g protein, 536 mg sodium, 1 g fiber
“Mastering the Art of Southern Cooking” (Gibbs Smith, $45) by Nathalie Dupree and Cynthia Graubart