This recipe is lovely any time of the year, but it seems particularly appropriate for the holiday of Sukkot, a harvest festival which is one of three great Jewish Pilgrimage festivals. According to rabbinic tradition, these flimsy sukkot represent the huts in which the Israelites dwelt during their 40 years of wandering in the desert after escaping from slavery in Egypt.
There used to be an Israeli restaurant in Chicago that made Cornish Hens similar to these. I always ordered it whenever I was there, so when it went out of business, I was forced to find a way to recreate the recipe at home. I came across this recipe in Food and Wine and used it as a jumping off point. The original restaurant version used to stuff the birds with some of the dried fruit and nuts instead of having the birds simply sit on top of them. While this still is not quite as wonderful as what I recall eating, this version is close and is absolutely delicious.
Cornish Hens available in the grocery store often seem to run around 2 to 2.5 pounds each, which is huge. I was fortunate to come across these Cornish Hens which are only about 1.25 pounds each – the perfect size. The were available in the freezer section and because of their size, they will defrost quickly. This recipe only requires either a wild rice or bulghur wheat pilaf to accompany it and, of course, a salad. While the amount of meat isn’t huge, the richness of the fruit, nuts and sauce means that a little goes a long way. This can easily be doubled or tripled. If you don’t observe Sukkot, just enjoy this dish as the perfect autumn meal.
Cornish Hens with Fruits, Walnuts and Honey Apple Glaze from Food and Wine, September 2012 and tweaked by me
Yield: 4 portions
2 tart apples, such as Granny Smith, peeled, cored, and diced
2/3 cup dried apricots, cut into thin slices OR half apricots and half prunes
2/3 cup raisins
1 cup walnuts, chopped
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon each ground: cumin, turmeric, coriander, ginger, cardamom
1/8 teaspoon ground clove
1 teaspoon crushed garlic
2 tablespoons melted butter
1/4 cup apple juice [If you don’t have apple juice or cider, you can just as easily use orange juice.]
2 tablespoons honey or date honey
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
About 1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
2 Cornish hens (about 1 1/4 pounds each), halved
1/4 teaspoon fresh-ground black pepper
- Heat the oven to 400°. In a roasting pan, combine the apples, apricots, prunes, raisins, walnuts, spices, garlic, and butter. Spread the mixture over the bottom of the pan.
- In a small bowl, combine the apple juice, honey, thyme, and 1/4 teaspoon of the salt to make a glaze. Sprinkle the Cornish hens with the remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt and the pepper and set them breast-side down on top of the fruit-and-nut mixture. Brush the hens with some of the glaze and then cook for 20 minutes.
- Remove the roasting pan from the oven. Stir the fruit-and-nut mixture and turn the hens over. [I found that this worked best if I placed the hens on a platter while I stirred through the fruit and nuts.] Brush them with more of the glaze, return the pan to the oven, and cook for another 10 minutes. Glaze the birds again and continue cooking them until just done, about 10 to 15 minutes longer. Glaze the hens one final time and serve them with the fruit-and-nut dressing and a bulghur wheat pilaf.