Cornish Hens Braised in Tangy Plum/Apricot Sauce

Rasoi Catering, New York City, Suvir Saran - December 1998

Before today's furred and feathered flurry of game, came Rock Cornish game hens. When state and federal wildlife lows ended market shooting of wild game earlier this century, Rock Cornish game hens—which are either the young offspring of Cornish chickens or a cross between Cornish and White Rock chickens—eventually filled Americans' taste for rightly flavored birds, a birthright since Captain John Smith founded Jamestown. Lately though, farm-raised game birds—squab, quail, pheasant, partridge, guinea hen, and a variety of ducks—had nudged Cornish game hens off many menus. What a shame, for Cornish hens, perfectly self-proportioned and priced for a profitable entrée and possessing flavor just gamey enough to render them more exotic—and enticing—than chicken, deserve a spot among the spread of foods and dishes being reclaimed from the scrap heap of history. The birds are perfect vehicles for soaking up a spectrum of flavors, from rustic to complex. At I Trulli, in New York City, Cornish hens get stuffed with rosemary and garlic and receive an olive oil massage before being spit-roasted. They're plated with a reduction of white wine and demi-glace and served with a Pugliese puree of dried fava beans and bitter-edged braised dandelion greens. And as caterer Suvir Saran of Rasoi Catering in New York City shows here with Cornish hens braised in tangy plum/apricot sauce, the mighty little bird can even take a star turn in the very-now Indian fusion movement.

For 8 servings

  • 1 cup dried plums
  • 1 cup dried apricots
  • 1/2 cup ghee or clarified butter
  • 4 Cornish hens, skinned and halved
  • 2 cups red onions, finely chopped
  • 2 Tbsps. fresh gingerroot, minced
  • 2 tsps. garam masala
  • 2 cups tomato puree
  • kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup boiling water
  • basmati rice, cooked
  1. Heat oven to 375°F.

  2. Combine plums, apricots, and enough boiling water to cover in a bowl; soak 3 hours; drain fruit; reserve water; transfer fruit to a processor; chop coarsely; reserve.

  3. Heat 2 Tbsps. ghee in a skillet over medium heat; sear hens on all sides; transfer to baking pan, meat side up; reserve. Add remaining ghee to sauté pan; add onions; sauté until golden (about 15 minutes); add ginger; sauté 2 minutes; stir in garam masala; stir 5 seconds; add tomato, reserved fruit, and 1 1/2 cups reserved soaking water; bring to a boil; reduce heat; simmer until reduced by 60 percent (about 20 minutes); season.

  4. Pour sauce over hens; pour boiling water down side of baking pan; cover pan with foil; place in middle of oven for 25 minutes; reduce heat to 325°F; cook another 25 minutes; remove hens from pan; pour sauce into small saucepan; reduce to sauce consistency; reserve (keep warm).

  5. To serve, ladle sauce onto plate; place half a hen atop sauce; cover with more sauce; serve with basmati rice.