Ancho Cider-Glazed Hens

With their sticky, spicy glaze, these hens are a diminutive riff on our holiday turkey. The birds can be served with Butter-Roasted Cornbread a twist on traditional stuffing, made of cornbread with sausage, nuts, and cheese baked into it and then toasted into crispy croutons. That crunch makes them irresistible. Spoon them over the hens and serve with Roasted Grapes and Winter Vegetables and you have a dish worthy of a cover shot.

Cook to Cook: The cornbread can be baked 2 days ahead and refrigerated. Roast the vegetables early in the day and keep at room temperature, lightly covered. Toast the cornbread as directed in its recipe shortly before serving.

Ingredients

Hens:
  • 1 large onion, cut into 1/8-inch thick rounds
  • 4 to 6 Cornish game hens(1 to 1-1/4 pounds each)
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Glaze:

  • 1 quart apple cider, boiled down to about 2/3 cup
  • 1/3 cup cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon ground Ancho or other medium-hot chile, or to taste
  • 2 tablespoons packed light brown sugar
  • 4 large garlic cloves, minced
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Accompaniments:

Instructions

1. Make the hens: About 2 hours before serving, preheat the oven to 400°F. Cover the bottom of a large shallow baking pan (a half-sheet pan is ideal) with the onion rounds. Tie together the hens' legs with cotton string. Arrange the hens, breast side up, on the onions. You want some space around each one so they can crisp up. Sprinkle the birds with salt and pepper.

2. Make the glaze: Stir together in a medium bowl the reduced apple cider, cider vinegar, soy sauce, ground chile, brown sugar, and garlic. Spoon about 2 teaspoons of the sauce over each hen.

3. Slip the pan into the oven and reduce the heat to 325°F. Roast the hens for 30 minutes, basting with their pan juices once or twice. Then raise the heat to 400°F., baste each hen with about 2 tablespoons of sauce, and continue roasting and basting with pan juices for 20 more minutes, or until the thickest part of the breast reads 160°F on an instant-read thermometer. At this point spoon a bit more sauce over the hens and run them under the broiler briefly, so they turn a rich, deep brown. Watch them carefully so they don't burn.

4. Remove the pan from the oven, transfer the hens to a platter, and let them rest in a warm place for 10 to 15 minutes. Roast the cornbread cubes as directed in the recipe and reheat the roasted vegetables.

5. As they heat up, set the hens' roasting pan on two burners and remove the onions from the pan. Add any remaining basting sauce to the roasting pan. Raise the heat to medium-high or high. With a wood spatula, scrape any brown glaze from the pan and stir as you boil the pan sauce for 3 minutes, or until it's rich tasting and almost syrupy. Taste for seasoning, add any necessary salt and pepper, and keep hot.

6. To serve the hens, warm a large serving platter in the oven for a few minutes. Then heap the vegetables and cornbread on it and tuck in the hens. Scrape all the pan juices over the birds and vegetables, scatter with the pine nuts if you're using them, and serve the dish hot.

From The Splendid Table's® How to Eat Weekends: New Recipes, Stories & Opinions from Public Radio's Award-Winning Food Show by Lynne Rossetto Kasper and Sally Swift (Clarkson Potter Publishers, 2011). Copyright © 2011 by American Public Media. Photographs copyright © 2011 by Ellen Silverman. All rights reserved.

Prep time: 
30 minutes
Cook time: 
1 to 1 1/2 hours roasting time; 15 minutes rest time
Total time: 
About 2 hours
Yield: 
4 to 6, multiplies easily

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