As the holiday season is quickly approaching, there is no better time to try out new recipes that put a spin on the typical menu. This Thanksgiving, chef Cat Cora swaps the traditional turkey and stuffing for Cornish game hens and olive and chestnut stuffing.
Cat Cora’s Note: Trussing is not a big deal — it just means to tie the legs of the birds together and secure the wings to the sides with toothpicks or wooden skewers that you’ve broken in half. Trussing keeps the stuffing inside the birds and helps cooking take place evenly. If you don’t have toothpicks or skewers, you can make do with kitchen twine. Cut off a piece about 20 inches long. Starting in the center of the string, tie the legs together tightly, loop each side of the string around a wing, and bring the string all the way around the bird tightly to hold the legs together and the wings close to the body.
Rinse the rice in cool water, discard the water, and add the rice to a 2-quart saucepan with a lid. Add 3 cups cold water and a teaspoon of salt. Bring the rice to a boil and stir once. Immediately reduce the heat to low, and cover the pot. Cook over low heat for 45 to 55 minutes, or until all the liquid has evaporated.
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. While the rice is cooking, remove the chestnuts from the bottle or can, chop them roughly, and spread them on a baking sheet. Toast them in the oven for about 10 minutes to remove some of their moisture. When the chestnuts are done roasting, turn up the oven to 375 degrees.
In a large bowl, mix the olive oil, cooked wild rice, olives, toasted chestnuts, chopped onion, and herbs.
Pat the game hens dry with a paper towel. If they have been frozen, be sure they are completely thawed, with gizzards removed. Lightly sprinkle the cavity of each game hen with salt and loosely fill with stuffing, leaving a little space in each for the rice to expand during roasting. Secure the legs, wings, and opening of each hen by trussing with cotton string. (See the note on trussing at the end of the recipe.) You will have stuffing left over. Spoon it into a small casserole with a lid and set aside or refrigerate. During the last 25 minutes when the hens are roasting, slide the casserole into the oven to heat.
Rub each of the skins of the trussed hens with sun-dried tomato tapenade, salt, and pepper and place breast side down on a rack set in a roasting pan. Place on the center rack of a preheated oven, and allow the hens to cook for 15 minutes before basting with the pomegranate juice and tapenade mix. In a small bowl whisk together the juice and ½ cup of tapenade. Continue basting with the remaining pomegranate juice-tapenade mix every 15 to 20 minutes until the hens are dark golden brown and the juices run clear when pierced at the thigh. Total cooking time will be about 50 to 55 minutes. An instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh, not touching the bone, should register 175 degrees to 180 degrees.
Remove the birds from the oven, and transfer them to a platter. Cover them with foil and let them rest for 10 to 15 minutes. Place the roasting pan with the juices on the stovetop over medium-low heat, add about a half cup of the chicken stock (or water) and scrape up any roasted bits from the bottom of the pan. (This is a good place to cook from the hip as you can use stock here, a combination of white wine and water, or just water.) Sift the flour into the cooking juices and mix well. Slowly whisk in another cup and a half of stock (or water) and stir well, and let simmer until the mixture is thick and has no lumps, about 5 to 6 minutes. Add a few more teaspoons of water or white wine if you’d like the gravy to be thinner. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
To serve, place a bird on each plate, nap with the gravy, and garnish with finely chopped parsley. Serve with a little extra rice on the side, if desired.