I used to think Cornish hen were a rare and exotic wild bird, but it turns out they're just a younger version of the standard broiler chicken. Nothing fancy there except their meat is so much more tender and succulent than chicken!
I've never been into grilling until this summer. But I recently learned how to butterfly poultry, which is a simple way to cut the bird so that it lays flat on the grill. This allows the meat to cook more quickly and more evenly throughout. It can be done with chicken or Cornish hen. This method of grilling yields tender juicy flesh, sweet crispy skin, and an irresistible smokey flavor. There's no advance prep, no brining, just a few simple cuts, a generous sprinkling of dry rub, and nice slow grill.
I'm choosy about poultry. I only eat it when I can get it straight from the farmer's hands who produced it so I can ask them my many questions about how it was raised. I'm probably every bit as annoying as the couple in that infamous Portlandia chicken episode. But with the very sad state of chicken farming in this country, there are a lot of questions worthy of asking. Luckily, each Saturday at our farmer's market I have the option of buying gorgeous organically grown birds from growers who take great care of their animals and the environment. Best of all, they also produce Cornish hens and ever since I tried them, I've been hooked! For about $10, I get a beautiful 2-pound pasture-raised Cornish hen that is surprisingly meaty and easily feeds two of us, with just enough leftovers for a sandwich the next day and a nice broth as well.
Whether you use chicken or Cornish hen, it's all about the butterflying, which is also called spatchcocking. Basically you cut out the spine of the bird which allows you to lay the bird flat. This video clearly shows how to do it. The other trick is to grill the bird skin side up and flip it skin side down for the last few minutes, you can read why in this informative article which goes into all the nitty gritty detail of how to perfectly grill a whole bird.
I grill my Cornish hen over wood coals on a kettle-style Weber grill but you can use a gas or charcoal grill instead. I like the flavor that you get from real wood coals and I like foraging for nice pieces of wood for a good fire (plus it's an excuse for s'mores for dessert!)
Of course, it's probably good to keep in mind that grilling is not all that healthy but it depends how you do it. Don't rush it. A long slow roast produces fewer carcinogenic compounds and also yields more tender meat. So be patient and have your meat thermometer on hand to remove the meat the moment it reaches temperature.
If you're looking for a fantastic summer meal, pair your grilled butterflied Cornish hen with my polenta fries and cucumber dill yoghurt salad. Bon appétit!
Grilled Butterflied Cornish Hen uses a method, also called spatchcocking, that produces tender flesh and crispy skin. (Recipe Credit: Aube Giroux from Kitchen Vignettes)
Aube Giroux is a food writer and filmmaker who shares her love of cooking on her farm-to-table blog, Kitchen Vignettes.Aube is a passionate organic gardener and home cook who likes to share the stories of how food gets to our dinner plates. Her work has been shown on television and at international film festivals. Her web series has been nominated for multiple James Beard Awards for Best Video Webcast (On Location). In 2012, she was the recipient of Saveur Magazine's Best Food Blog award in the video category.