Drunken game hens? “What in the world is Poor Girl doing now?” you may be asking yourself. Don’t worry, I haven’t completely lost it by giving tiny chickens shots of Patron and sitting back to see what happens. However, I have been giving them wine so that they may produce some of the juiciest, most tender chicken you will ever taste. Ever? Yes, ever. Hear me out a bit.
I’m sure most of you know of a store or in your area that sells whole rotisserie chickens. Most of these cost between $6-$9, depending on the store, and come lightly seasoned. One of the biggest virtues of these rotisserie chickens is their versatility. With a whole, pre-cooked chicken, you can do wonders in the kitchen, making anything from chicken salads to soups to stir-frys. They do have their drawbacks, though: they’re relatively small chickens, much smaller than the usual whole fryers they sell in the poultry department; sometimes they’re a bit over or undercooked; and sometimes they’re just bland, with hardly any flavor at all. It’s hit or miss with them.
A great way to get around most of these issues for less than what you’d pay for one of those whole rotisserie chickens is to make this recipe that I stole (with permission) from my mother. The key to making this affordable, however, is to shop very wisely. Most Rock Cornish game hens tend to be very expensive if purchased fresh from a butcher or fine meat & poultry department, there are other less expensive game hens out there. They may not be the ultra-swank tiny birds the gourmet shops sell, but brands like Tyson offer some very tender, healthy sized game hens that are just slightly smaller than some of the pre-cooked regular chickens we’ve been talking about thus far. If you hunt around, you can find some incredible deals on these at your local grocery store. I have seen places like Safeway sell them for as low as $0.99/lb, and for two of these great little birds I’ve been able to pay as low as $4.98. Costco will also sell these in 2 or 4-packs for about $8-10, once again making these an incredible deal. Keep in mind that this recipe works for regular chicken, so don’t feel bound to the game hen. But make sure to wait for sales on either so you can get the best deal for this meal.
However, a lot of folks are wary about cooking game hens because of their small size. If one isn’t careful, one can end up with some very dry, overcooked hens that are tough & flavorless. My mom, however, taught me how to get around this: marinate them in wine & just a few herbs & spices (note: this is also a great way to use up any leftover wine you don’t feel like drinking). The trick to this is the timing: you really need to let your game hens marinate at least overnight, if not 24 hours, to get the perfect, juicy meat you’re looking for. I learned this the hard way: I’m not always the most patient person, so the first few times I made these I only allowed them to marinate a couple of hours, and was very disappointed to find that the game hens tasted nothing like my mom’s. A couple quick phone calls later I found out I’d been too hasty and the next time I made these they came out just like hers! So definitely be patient with these. Follow the instructions as much as possible on this one and you’ll be surprised at how tender & flavorful these game hens will be. Then serve them however you like: individual halves with a nice rice pilaf & salad for dinner, or use the breast & thigh meat in place of the rotisserie chicken meat that just won’t taste the same. You won’t be disappointed!
Drunken Game Hens (serves 3-4 if serving individually for dinner; total cost per serving: $2.50)
1/2-1 bottle dry white wine
1 t garlic salt
1 t cumin
1/2 t fresh ground pepper
1/2 t thyme
Rinse the game hens and remove any giblets that may be inside the chest cavity. Pat dry. Combine the garlic salt, cumin, pepper, and thyme in a small bowl and mix together. Sprinkle each hen generously inside and out with the herb mixture, then place in a large bowl breast side up. Pour the wine over the game hens until they are almost completely submerged. Cover and refrigerate up to 24 hours, turning the hens breast side down about halfway through.
The next day, preheat the oven to 375. To avoid a very messy clean up, line your broiler pan with foil and spray a broiler rack lightly with cooking spray placing it on top of the broiler pan. This will ensure that the backs of the game hens will not get stuck to the pan. Place the game hens on top of the rack, cover loosely with tented aluminum foil, and place in the oven. Cook for about 20 minutes at 375 then reduce heat to 350. Continue to cook covered for about 35-40 more minutes. Uncover the hens and allow to cook for about 10 more minutes, or until their skin becomes a golden brown. Test the doneness of the hens by cutting on the inside of one of the thighs. If still pink, you will need to cook for a few minutes longer, but be sure to cover them so that they do not dry out & burn.
When the game hens are done & meat is no longer pink on the inside, remove from oven and allow to cool for about 5 minutes. Cut in half and serve with a nice salad or your favorite side, or use the meat for salads, soups, you name it! Enjoy!