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Cornish Hens under a Brick, Italian Style

This Italian grilling method flattens poultry and holds it uniformly against the grill so it cooks quickly and evenly. Use the same technique for any split small birds, such as quail, squab and guinea hens. Pork chops and pork tenderloins can also be cooked under a weight so that they do not curl up on the grill. Bricks, river stones, metal pounding tools and other weights all work well. Do not use canned foods as weights, however, as the heat could cause them to explode.

Ingredients:

For the marinade:

  • 2 cups olive oil
  • 1⁄4 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 6 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 2 Tbs. minced fresh basil or 1 Tbs. dried
  • 2 Tbs. minced fresh oregano or 1 Tbs. dried
  • 1 tsp. hot red pepper flakes
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 Tbs. salt
  • 2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

  • 4 Cornish hens, split down the back and
      flattened, or 2 poussins or small chickens,
      halved
  • Wood chips or chunks, soaked in water
      for 30 minutes and drained
  • 4 clean bricks or other weights, wrapped in
      aluminum foil

Directions:

To make the marinade, in a small bowl, mix together the oil, vinegar, garlic, basil, oregano, red pepper flakes, lemon juice, salt and black pepper.

Put the Cornish hens or poussin halves in a baking dish or zippered plastic bags and pour the marinade over the birds. Cover or seal and let stand, turning occasionally, at room temperature for up to 2 hours or overnight in the refrigerator. If the birds are refrigerated, remove them from the refrigerator 30 minutes before grilling.

Prepare a charcoal or gas grill for indirect grilling over medium-high heat.

Sprinkle the wood chips on the coals, or add in a perforated foil packet to a gas grill. Remove the birds from the marinade and pat dry. Place them, skin side up, on the grill directly over medium-high heat, and place a foil-covered brick on each one. Grill until well browned on the underside, 5 to 7 minutes, moving the birds to cooler parts of the grill if flare-ups occur.

Turn the hens over, replace the bricks, and grill until the skin side is well browned, 5 minutes more. Remove the bricks and place the hens, skin side up, on the unheated portion of the grill. Check for doneness by cutting into the hens next to the thigh bone or testing with an instant-read thermometer in the thickest part. The hens should not show any pink near the bone, and the internal temperature should register at least 160°F on an instant-read thermometer. Cover the grill and continue cooking as needed, 10 to 15 minutes more.

Transfer the birds to a platter, cover loosely with aluminum foil, and let rest for 5 minutes before serving.
Serves 4.
Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Collection Series, Grilling, by Denis Kelly (Simon & Schuster, 2002).