There’s something really special about cooking for my man. And no, I don’t mean the “barefoot in the kitchen” version of sublimated, antiquated femininity. I mean the, “gee, he cooks exquisite dinners from his exquisite garden on his exquisite collection of cast iron pans ninety percent of the time for me so when I get a chance (which isn’t often) to return the favor, I pull out all the stops with something extra special in his honor” version. And it’s usually French.
Last night I got the urge to roast some Cornish game hens for his supper. You see, the Cute Gardener has a thing for birds and will ravish them from wing to bone with nary a scrap of waste so I figured I would give him a whole one on a plate.
Along with some inspiration from my favorite cook of all things French — Dorie Greenspan — I decided to dress the birds with homemade olive tapenade and serve with a fresh salad and some buttered radishes. The beauty of this meal was that it was done in 30 minutes – almost unbelievable for a bird, yet producing perfect, tender, juicy and flavorful meat.
The entire dish manifested without a wrinkle and I am convinced a big part of it included: my accompanying Thelonious Monk cooking soundtrack; the decision to make a pilaf out of basmati steamed in bay leaf and olive oil simmered minced onion; the fresh arugula from the window planter that went into the spinach, walnut and pomegranate vinaigrette salad; and the way I put my heart and soul into the rare occasion ultimately arriving with something sublimely beautiful and beyond the ordinary.
2 Cornish hens at room temperature
2 teaspoons black olive tapenade (*recipe included at end of blog)
Fresh lemon juice
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 500 degrees. Oil a shallow roasting pan.
Working with one hen at a time, using a chef’s knife, cut down along both sides of the backbone to remove it. (The CG used the bones to make stock on the stove after dinner.) Turn the bird breast side up and press on the breastbone to crack it so the birds lie more flat. Gently loosen the skin from the flesh just enough to push the olive tapenade up between the skin and the flesh of the breast and the chubby thigh. Transfer the hens to the roasting pan, skin side up and give the skin a rubdown with some olive oil. Sprinkle over with some lemon juice, season with salt and pepper and put into the oven.
Roast the hens undisturbed for 25-30 minutes (mine took exactly 26) until the skin is deeply golden and crisp and the juices run clear when you prick the thighs.
*Black Olive Tapenade
½ cup pitted, oil cured black olives, chopped (I couldn’t find oil cured so used the regular can of olives in water and it worked fine)
1 anchovy, drained
Grated zest and juice of ¼ lemon
Pinch of rosemary
Pinch of thyme
Pinch of cayenne
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
Put all of the ingredients in a food processor and process until pureed to your taste consistency wise. (I kept mine a little chunky.)