Moroccan-Style Cornish Hens

Cornish game hens are a great alternative to roasting a whole chicken. For a dinner for two, it makes perfect sense if you don’t want tons of leftovers. For larger groups, they’re equally as elegant. They’re smaller and easier to work with, too. When we invited my father in law and step-mother in law over for dinner this weekend, cornish hens were the perfect choice. They don’t eat red meat, fish seems a little too common, and chicken breasts? Not nearly nice enough. I wanted to make something special, and hens fit that bill.

There are probably a zillion ways you could make cornish hens, much like a whole chicken. It can be seasoned and stuffed however you like. Roasted whole, butterflied and grilled, and even slow cooked. I found this great recipe from for Moroccan-Style Cornish Hens with Roasted Vegetables. The combination of seasonings – caraway, cinnamon, paprika, ginger… (the list goes on!) really drew me in, nevermind the mouth-watering combination of vegetables: butternut squash, turnip, zucchini, red bell pepper, and tomato. Good thing my husband doesn’t mind helping me with measuring and chopping!

This meal turned out really great, as do most dishes where the vegetables are roasted right in with the meat. The flavors are truly brought out by roasting together, and all the spices gave a wonderful depth and zing to the meat and vegetables. For the four of us, I made just two hens, and split them in half instead of roasting whole. This was the perfect portion. I kept the original amounts of vegetables, however, because I love filling my plate with colorful vegetables, and wouldn’t mind having leftovers. I also kept the full amounts for the seasoning blend, to ensure lots of flavor. In looking over the recipe again now, I realize I forgot the onions completely! But that’s quite alright – there were certainly enough vegetables to go around and it was not missing any flavors, though I’m sure roasted onions would be great in here. I accompanied the meal with a whole wheat couscous with toasted pine nuts and garlic – it was the perfect accompaniement.

Moroccan-Style Roast Cornish Hens with Vegetables
Courtesy of Gourmet Magazine via Epicurious

1 teaspoon caraway seeds
1 1/2 tablespoons salt
4 garlic cloves
1/4 cup mild honey
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons paprika
4 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon cayenne
1 teaspoon black pepper
2 large zucchini (1 1/4 lb total), halved lengthwise and cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces
2 medium turnips (1/2 lb total), peeled, halved lengthwise, and cut crosswise into 1-inch-thick pieces
2 red bell peppers, quartered and cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces
1 1/2 lb butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1 1/2-inch chunks
2 medium onions, cut lengthwise into 1-inch-thick wedges
1 (28-oz) can whole tomatoes, drained and chopped
1/2 cup chicken broth
4 (1 1/4- to 1 1/2-lb) Cornish hens, halved lengthwise
6 tablespoons chopped mixed fresh parsley, cilantro, and mint (I ommitted the mint because my father in law is allergic)

Preheat oven to 425°F.

Coarsely grind caraway seeds with salt in an electric coffee/spice grinder or crush with a rolling pin. Mince garlic, then mash to a paste with salt mixture using flat side of a chef’s knife. Transfer paste to a large bowl and whisk in honey, lemon juice, oil, spices, and pepper.

Put zucchini, turnips, bell peppers, butternut squash, and onions in an oiled large roasting pan, then add half of spice mixture and toss until well coated. Stir tomatoes and broth into vegetables. Add hens to large bowl with remaining spice mixture and toss to coat, then arrange hens, breast sides up, over vegetables in pan.

Cover pan tightly with foil and roast in middle of oven 1 hour. Uncover and roast until hens are browned and vegetables are tender, 20 to 30 minutes more. Skim fat from cooking liquid. Sprinkle herbs on top and spoon some cooking liquid over hens.

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One Response to “Moroccan-Style Cornish Hens”

  1. 1

    Kevin — February 5, 2008 @ 2:01 am Reply

    That cornish game hen dinner looks really good. I have been meaning to try cornish game hen It is always nice when you can cook everything at once and in the same pot.

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