I thought that I had generated an awesome original concept with this bay leaf butter. But no, of course I am not the first person ever in the history of home cooking to consider adding herbs to butter. And yeah, David Chang totally beat me to it. A lot of these ideas come to me on long walks – moments where I am away from the internet and can believe, temporarily, that I am a clever and innovative person, reinventing the food wheel, as it were.
This got me thinking about that old chestnut so often repeated while I was in art school, about there being nothing original. Innovation mattered a lot in the context of art and design, not only to me but to many of my peers. We were all aggressively in pursuit of the original, the unconventional, the groundbreaking. While there is a lot to be said for pushing ourselves to the edge of the familiar, it can also be a burden. With home cooking, most of the time I don’t care about being wildly groundbreaking – and that’s a relief. But one of the things that I love most about cooking is brainstorming creative ingredient pairings, and occasionally littler innovations emerge.
The real beauty of this roast bird is in the simplicity of its ingredients. The vibrant flavors of the bay leaves and the preserved lemons invigorate the roast and bring new life to this cozy weeknight staple of fall and winter tables. You can easily prepare this with a regular chicken, too – just adjust the cooking time accordingly.
ROAST CORNISH GAME HEN WITH PRESERVED LEMONS & BAY LEAF BUTTER
2 small cornish game hens, about 1-1/4 pounds each (thanks to Whole Foods for these fellas)
1/2 small yellow onion, quartered
1 or 2 preserved lemons, quartered (or substitute with fresh lemons)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 California bay leaves (if using a milder bay leaf, you may want to add a third leaf)
freshly ground black pepper
Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
Rinse and dry each hen.
Rinse the preserved lemons to remove any excess salt. If not already quartered, do so now. Separate the pulp from the rind.
Easing your fingers under the skin of the hen at the breast, carefully slide three quarters of preserved lemon peel in between skin and meat, being careful not to tear the skin.
Place 1/4 of the onion in the cavity of each hen. Divide the pulp of the preserved lemons in two, and stuff each into the cavity as well.
Grind a generous spray of black pepper over each bird.
Arrange them in a roasting pan and nestle remaining onion in with the birds.
Roast at 425 degrees until the temperature of the thigh reaches 165 degrees, about 35 to 40 minutes. Let them rest for about ten minutes before serving.
About five minutes before the bird is done, heat the two tablespoons of butter over the lowest possible heat. Once butter is melted, remove from heat and add both bay leaves. Infuse the butter for at least five minutes. Divide the butter in half and serve in a small dish alongside the hen.