Grilled Cornish Hens with Chimichurri
Here’s a creative way to use zesty chimichurri sauce in an impressive and unexpected presentation. Cornish hens are flattened and cooked under the pressure of a heavy brick, saving cooking time and creating a gorgeous color and crisp skin. Don’t have bricks lying around? Use a pizza stone, cast-iron pan or other heavy, flameproof pan to weigh down the game hens while they’re cooking.
For the chimichurri:
- 1 cup (1 oz./30 g) lightly packed fresh cilantro leaves
- 1 cup (1 oz./30 g) lightly packed fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
- 1 cup (8 fl. oz./250 ml) extra-virgin olive oil
- 1/3 cup (3 fl. oz./80 ml) fresh lemon juice
- 2 Tbs. grated lemon zest
- 2 Tbs. grated orange zest
- 4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
- 1/2 tsp. sea salt
- 1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
- 1/4 tsp. ground cumin
3 Cornish hens, about 1 lb. (500 g) each
- 3 Tbs. honey
- Olive oil for brushing
To make the chimichurri, combine the cilantro, parsley, olive oil, lemon juice and zest, orange zest, garlic, salt, red pepper flakes and cumin in a blender or food processor and process to a smooth puree. Cover and refrigerate.
To prepare the Cornish hens, trim off and discard the extra fat from the necks and just inside the body cavities. Place 1 hen on a cutting board, breast side down. Using poultry shears, cut through the flesh and bone from the neck end to the tail along each side of the backbone. Remove the backbone completely. Turn the hen breast side up and spread it open. Cut out the breastbone and discard. Cut off the wing tips and any loose skin. Pull down on the legs to lay them flat. Turn the hen over and, using the palms of both hands, press down on the hen to flatten it as much as possible. Repeat with the remaining 2 hens.
Rub the hens all over with the honey and place them in a ceramic or glass baking dish or a large sealable plastic bag. Pour half of the chimichurri over the hens and turn to coat. Cover the dish or seal the bag and marinate the hens in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour or up to overnight, turning several times.
Prepare a medium-hot fire in a gas or charcoal grill. Separately wrap 3 bricks in heavy-duty aluminum foil. Brush the grill rack with oil. Remove the hens from the marinade and place, skin side down, on the rack. Discard the marinade. Position a brick on top of each hen so that it covers as much of the bird as possible. Grill until the skin is golden, 8 to 10 minutes.
Wearing oven mitts or grill gloves, remove the bricks. Using metal tongs and a large spatula, carefully turn over the hens. Replace the bricks and continue grilling until the hens are dark golden brown on the second side and cooked through, or until an instant-read thermometer inserted into a thigh away from the bone registers 165°F (74°C), 8 to 10 minutes longer.
If serving more than 3 people, cut the hens in half through the breast. Transfer the hens to a serving platter and brush with some of the reserved chimichurri sauce. Serve immediately. Pour the remaining chimichurri into a small bowl and pass at the table. Serves 3 to 6.
Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Good Food to Share (Weldon Owen, 2010)