Kitchen Accomplice: Spatchcocked Cornish hen

By John Kirkendall

No one is going to wash your mouth out with soap if you say this out loud. Spatchcocking is a perfectly legitimate procedure. It simply involves splitting the bird.
In our case, we are going to begin by taking kitchen shears and cutting along both sides of the backbone of a Cornish hen. Then pull the bone out and snip it off where it joins the carcass. Then place the bird, breast side up on a cutting board and press it firmly with the palm of your hand until it is flattened You may hear some cracking of bones – perfect. It is now ready for brining.

I like to brine the Cornish hen. It plumps the bird and also adds good flavor. Since Cornish hens are small, you can brine in the refrigerator without taking everything else out. It is best not to brine at room temperature to avoid contamination, although my grandmother, who raised chickens, is looking down now and scoffing at the idea of this frippery. However, there is the Board of Health to argue vehemently in favor of keeping the bird refrigerated during the brining process. Better safe than sorry. (Sorry, Grandmother.)

The brine:
• 2 Gal Water.
• 2 Cups Kosher Salt.
• 3 Cups Sugar .
• 1/4 Cup Zatarains Liquid Crab Boil (This adds zing but may be omitted).
• 4 TBS Black Pepper .
• 1 TBS Dried Rosemary .
• 1 TBS Thyme.
• 1/4 Cup Molasses.
• 1/4 Cup reasonably good Chardonnay.
• 1/4 Cup Worcestershire.

Place the Cornish hens in the brine solution and refrigerate for 4 hours. After 4 hours, rinse the Cornish hens thoroughly under running cold water and pat dry with good paper toweling – not the kind that leaves lint all over the birds. Careful drying will assist you in achieving a crisp skin on the hens for a delicious roasting result. Pre-heat the oven to 375.

Roast the hens in the preheated oven for 1 hour or until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh registers 165 degrees F and the juices run clear. Remove the hens from the oven, loosely tent with foil and let rest 10 minutes before carving.

I like to cut the Spatchcocked hens in two and place directly on the dinner plates of your guests. This saves a lot of fumbling around at the table and is a step your guests will appreciate. (They will have enough to fumble with as you serve the side dishes you have prepared.)

Brussels Sprouts with Bacon and Chestnuts
Chestnuts are delicious. You can buy these in a jar I prefer roasting them myself, but allow some time if you go this route. It will take 20 minutes at 425. You will need to cut an “x” in the chestnuts so they do not burst in the oven and so they can be peeled easier, once they are cool enough to handle. The consistency of the fresh roasted ones is less mushy. You can enhance their flavor by sprinkling a little salt on the “x” before you roast. This exercise will make you feel virtuous and cause you to burst into a Christmas carol (maybe.) The peeling is the time-consuming part of this dish. And make an appointment for a manicure. Some of the shells will lodge themselves under your nails.
• 1 pound Brussels sprouts.
• 1/3 pound thick sliced bacon cut into 1/4 inch pieces.
• 1 red onion, chopped.
• 20-25 roasted chestnuts, quartered.
• 1/4 cup chicken stock.
• Lemon wedges to serve.

1. Put a large pot of salty water on the stove to boil. While the water is heating, cut the Brussels sprouts in half and slice thinly, starting at the top of the sprout and working bak toward the stem. Discard the last 1/4 inch of the stem end.
2. Cut the bacon into pieces about 1/4 inch wide and sauté them over medium heat.
3. Once the water is boiling, add all the Brussels sprouts and boil them for exactly 2 minutes. While they are boiling, prepare a large bowl of ice water. Plunge the sprouts into the water bath when the 2 minutes is up.
4. When the bacon is almost finished, add the red onion, chopped, and turn the heat to high. Stir fry the bacon and onion until the onion begins to brown.
5. Add the chestnuts and sprouts to the sauté pan and toss to combine. Stir in about 1 teaspoon of salt, more or less, to taste. Cook over high heat for 2-3 minutes and grind some black pepper over to taste
6. Serve hot with lemon wedges.
This will serve 8-10 persons as a side dish.

Judge John Kirkendall is a retired Washtenaw County Probate judge. He presently serves on the Elder Law Advisory Board of the Stetson University College of Law. He has taught cooking classes for more than 25 years at various cooking schools in the Ann Arbor area and has himself attended classes at Cordon Bleu and La Varenne in Paris, as well as schools in New York, New Orleans and San Francisco. He is past president of the National College of Probate Judges. He can be reached at