Sunday, April 7, 2013

Dutch Oven Roasted Cornish Hens on Broccoli Rice

I was listening to the radio a while back, and I heard a yummy idea.  I don’t think the people on the radio intended it to be so, however.  It was a political show, and they were interviewing a restaurant owner in some middle eastern country.  The interview was all about how the economy was struggling in the wake of the uprisings in that country, bla, bla, bla, yadda, yadda...

But they had the interview after a meal of roasted dove, which they were eating, as was tradition, with their fingers.

I just latched onto that idea, and it sounded delicious, and like so much fun.  I wanted to do something like it. I pondered it for days.  I came up with lots of idea of different ways to approach it, and to make it a full meal, not just a meat dish.

One problem to overcome was the meat.  What kind of bird to use?  I didn’t know where I could get dove.  Quail?  That was a possibility.  One of the guys in the World Championship did a great job cooking quail.  Then, one day shopping, I found some cornish hens, frozen.  Perfect!  Easy to work with, inexpensive, tasty...  And, I think, visually impressive!

This ended up being a very simple dish to prepare. Also, for the record, I was not trying to duplicate any particular middle-eastern cuisine, or any actual traditional dish.  So, there is no effort whatsoever to make this “authentic”.  I just made it all up.  So there.

Dutch Oven Roasted Cornish Hens

12” Deep Dutch oven

10 coals below
12-14 coals above

1 cornish hen for each serving (I did 6, and had one extra)
1 1/2-2 cups salt
1/2 cup molasses
about a gallon of water

3 medium onions
chili powder

Two days before the meal, I set the little birds (encased in plastic) into the fridge to thaw.  Since they’re so small, this could probably work in one day, maybe even in the brining process.  But I did it over a couple of days.

The morning of the meal, I got down one of my medium stock pots and put in about a quart or so of hot tap water.  I put in the salt and the molasses.  The hot water helped those to dissolve.  Then, I added about another quart or so of cold water.  I opened up the hen packages and drained them briefly, then poked holes in the skin with a knife.  A fork works, too.  I put them in the brined water.  I topped off the water just enough to cover the hens, then added some ice on top.  The ice and the salt should keep the germs at bay while the meat gets all savory and tender.  I set that aside until cooking time, later that afternoon.

When that time came, I dumped the brine and set the chickens on cooling racks in the sink to drain pretty well.  The meat itself will retain a lot of moisture anyway, and I want to minimize the broth at the bottom of the pot.

While the hens were draining, I cut the onions into chunks.  I cut them in half first, then quartered the halves.  I scattered these into the bottom of the 12” deep Dutch oven, to hold the hens up above the level of the broth that would cook out.

Then I patted the hens dry with paper towels and coated them on both sides with liberal shakes of salt, pepper, paprika, and gentle shakes of chili powder.  I tucked them into to Dutch oven all cozy and got them on the coals.

It’s a longer, lower-temperature roast.  I’m guessing the interior oven temperature is probably around 275 or 300 with those coals numbered above.  The cook time was about an hour and a half to two hours.  I went for an internal meat temperature of 180° as a target.

Broccoli Rice

8” Dutch oven

10-12 coals below

1 1/2 cups rice
3 cups water
Juice of 1 lemon
1 large broccoli head
Broth and onions from the cornish hens

When the roasting was almost done, I made the rice.  It’s pretty simple, too.  I just put the rice, water, and lemon juice in the 8” Dutch oven, and put it on the coals, with the lid on.  While that was coming up to a boil, I cut the broccoli head into tiny florets.  I noted when the steam started venting out from under the lid.  After ten minutes or so, tossed in the broccoli to steam.  I was really quick with the lid, because I didn’t want to lose much heat or steam.  Maybe five minutes later, I pulled the oven off the coals, with the lid still on, to finish cooking.


12” Dutch oven lid
18-20 coals below

Flour tortillas (prepackaged or make your own)

My original idea was to make some tortillas from scratch, and then when we eat, we would pull the meat off with our fingers, put it in a torn tortilla piece along with the rice and eat it all with our fingers.  In the end, I was kinda tired and so I got lazy and just used some store-bought tortillas.  But even those have to be prepared.

So, I turned a 12” Dutch oven lid over onto a lid stand over a whole lotta coals (see above), and let it get really hot.  Then I just tossed the tortilla on it and let it heat up and singe a bit.  As each one was done, I put it on a plate covered with a tea towel. Hot tortillas are more flexible and tastier.

When it was all done, it was time for serving.   I pulled the hens out of the dutch oven, and spooned onions and broth into the rice, stirring it all up.  I put a big spoonful of rice mix on the plate, topped it with the hen, and set out the now-warm tortillas.   We ate them just as I had planned, by tearing apart the meat and eating it with the rice in the tortillas.  I also set out sour cream, and salsa, but we didn’t really add them.  It didn’t need it much.

It was a lot of fun, both to cook and to eat!

Mark has discovered a love of Dutch Oven Cooking. Mark also has other sites and blogs, including and his MoBoy blog.

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