The Year In Food » Fine Seasonal Eating

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Cornish Game Hen with Preserved Lemons & Bay Leaf Butter

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.

Serves 2

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.

  • Angie Johnson - Wow! I love the simplicity of this. That is so important for me since I have a 1 year old and a hungry husband and not much time to spend on anything but loving my munchkin. Thanks for this! I will definitely be making this one.ReplyCancel

  • Tine - Lovely lovely roasted food!
    Never have eaten hen, it looks great!ReplyCancel

  • Sarah - I roasted a chicken this weekend! Great minds… The weather got cool and crisp, and I had the most intense craving—I used a shallot-parsley butter with mine. It is cozy; you’re right.ReplyCancel

  • amelia - What a lovely post and what a sweet reminder–simple is sometimes the absolute best.ReplyCancel

  • albertina - Hi! I discovered you from a blog on etsy….I tried the butternut squash recipe and have done it twice already! LOVE!!! and will try this cornish hen this weekend. Thank you!!ReplyCancel

  • NicoleD - Oh man, do I wish this was waiting for me at home! I never thought of bay leaf butter, so this is new to me :)ReplyCancel

  • la domestique - The food looks so tasty and I love the bakeware! Sure, herb butter is nothing new, but your spin is still inspiring!ReplyCancel

  • Kelsey - Beautiful birds, thoughtful words. I had the same experience with the originality dilemma the other day when I thought of a fennel gratin. Turns out, one hundred other people think it’s a good idea too. C’est la vie. We’re here to share experiences most days, right? And experiences are always original.ReplyCancel

  • joanne - Though it may be hard to come up with a completely novel idea when it comes to food…what really counts is how you use it! And you’ve used this bay leaf butter marvelously!ReplyCancel

  • Lynda - So simple, indeed. I love preserved lemons and the bay leaf butter is inspirational. So many wonderful ideas are built on other creative ideas. It’s impossible to design in a vacuum.ReplyCancel

  • Elizabeth @ Saffron Lane - Another beautiful, thought-provoking post. Sometimes I push things beyond the familiar in the kitchen and the result is incredible. Other times, I quietly push it aside and hope for a better result next time. To me, that’s the beauty of cooking, and anything creative for that matter.ReplyCancel

  • Season with Reason - Preserved lemons are a favorite. Those little fellas look divine!ReplyCancel

  • Brian @ A Thought For Food - People don’t cook enough with preserved lemons. So glad you used them here!ReplyCancel

  • kankana - In India we use a lot of bay leaf but mostly the dried ones. As for this butter .. i have to try this .. i make sage butter which is heavenly!
    I never preserved lemon or even cook with them .. should try that too something.ReplyCancel

  • New Year, New Beginnings « 4500block - […] Roast Cornish Game Hen from The Year In Food. […]ReplyCancel

  • PRESERVED LEMONS » The Year In Food - […] is unbelievably versatile: my recent Preserved Lemon and Chickpea Pasta and last year’s Roast Cornish Game Hen with Preserved Lemons (try it with chicken too!) are both testament to […]ReplyCancel

  • Clara - Cornish game-hen with preserved lemon.ReplyCancel

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