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Author Notes: I recently treated myself to the dvd box set of my favorite cooking show, Two Fat Ladies: a classic of the information rich, this-shit'll-kill-you era of food television. The very strong flavored, old school, English style of cooking on the show often features little game birds of one sort or another, which inspired me. Unfortunately, the closest you can get to a game bird on FreshDirect is Cornish hen, so that's what I worked with here. Cornish hens have great texture but little flavor, so I opted to stuff them with tarragon and tangerines (which I had around) and pour over dried porcini (ditto)-flavored gravy. This left me with excess tarragon and porcinis; tossing them together with some potatoes and preparing them en papillote seemed a good way to pull these extras together as a side. —The Weary Epicurean
- 2 cornish hens
- 2 tangerines
- 1 head of garlic
- 4 tablespoons butter
- 1/2 bunch French taragon
- 1/4 cup White Wine
- 1/4 cup chicken stock
- 2 ounces dried porcini mushrooms
- Prep. step: put porcinis in 2 cups of water to soak (they require at least an hour of soaking prior to beginning this recipe). Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Put a little wire rack in a roasting pan for the birds to rest on. Peel the garlic cloves - all 20 or so of them!
- Readying the birds: wash them in cold water and pat dry with paper towel. Season them outside and in with a lot of salt and pepper. Rub them all over with a lot of butter. Put half a tangerine, a few sprigs of tarragon, and a peeled and smashed clove of garlic or two in the cavity of each bird. You don't want the cavities stuffed though, there should be some air in there - we're trying to get an aromatic tangerine/tarragon/garlic steam bath type thing happening in the bird's cavity - we're not trying to slow the cooking process by stuffing it full. Truss the birds tightly. Put them on the wire rack/roasting pan combo, breasts down. Arrange garlic cloves around the birds, ideally a few under the rack underneath them as well.
- Cooking the birds: Put the birds in the oven at 450 for 30 minutes. Remove from the oven, flip breasts up, lower oven to 350. Pour the white wine and the chicken stock over the birds and brush them with a little more butter. Put them back in the 350 oven (NOTE: this is when you put your packet of potatoes, tarragon, garlic and porcinis in the oven, described below, if you want it all done together), probably for only another 20-30 minutes but you simply have to keep checking with a meat thermometer, aiming for about 160-165 in the fattest part of the bird you can fine (it will come up another 5 degrees when you take them out of the oven and let them rest). Baste at least every 10 minutes.
- The gravy: Right after you first put the birds in the oven at 450, drain the porcinis and reserve the water in which they have been soaking. You use the porcinis themselves in the second part of the recipe, below, but for the gravy you're going to reduce the soaking liquid. To do this, put it in a sauce pan, squeeze in the juice of the other tangerine, and just boil it all down for about 30 minutes - until has reduced by about half, but not until it is really as thick as you ultimately want it. When the birds are finished, splash a little cold white wine (or chicken stock, or water) into the pan they've been in and scrape like mad (deglaze it, in other words). Skim some of the grease off, then pour the remaining drippings and the cloves of garlic in with the reduced porcini liquid. Reduced the combined porcini liquid and pan drippings, whisking it all the while, for about 6 minutes at a furious boil. It should be thick enough to coat a spoon at that point. Strain and season it. Meanwhile your birds have been resting and your little packets of potatoes have been roasting, so once you're done with the gravy you can serve.
Potatoes, Tarragon and Garlic en Papillote
- 1/2 bunch tarragon
- 3-4 medium Yukon Gold (or similar, thin-skinned) potatoes
- 5-6 cloves of garlic
- 2-3 tablespoons butter
- Potato and garlic pre-boil: Before you begin prep. of the birds, when you're just putting the oven on to preheat (in Step 1, above), put the potatoes in a pot with the garlic cloves and just barely cover in cold water. Put this on the stove and bring it to a boil, then boil for 10 minutes (no more - this is just a pre-cooking step). Drain the potatoes and slice them into rounds about as thick as your pinky. Slice the garlic cloves in half.
- Making the packets: (N.B. If you're fancy, you will know how to make little packets of vegetables and what have you out of lovely honest parchment paper tightly sealed around the edges already. You will probably even know that you have to brush the parchment with water before you put the little packets into the oven, so that they won't scorch, since they're going to be in there for 30 minutes or more. I'm not even going to talk to you since you already know everything. HOWEVER, if you don't already know what en papillote means and/or you're not OCD-level nostalgic, the recipe works just as well with aluminum foil, so that's how I'm going to explain it). Draw out a sheet of aluminum foil as long as your arm (so it's about twice as long as it is wide) and spread it shiny side up on the counter. Smear it with butter, but leaving an inch or two band un-smeared all around the edge. Make a pile 1 or 2 levels deep of potato rounds on one side (long-ways), then pile on tarragon leaves, then the garlic cloves, the porcini mushrooms, and a couple hunks of butter, then more tarragon leaves, then another layer or 2 of potato rounds. Fold over the aluminum on top of this packet and crimp it tightly around the edges, so you have a little, sealed, square packet of potato, tarragon, garlic, porcini and butter.
- Cooking and serving the packets: Throw the packets in the oven with the hens when they are put BACK into the oven at 350. They need a minimum of 30 minutes cooking time, but it's pretty hard to overcook them, so don't worry about it - just take them out when you're done with the birds and the gravy, they'll be fine. I like to put them on a platter and open them table side by slitting them down the middle with a sharp knife, as this allows the steam out, which is very fragrant.
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