Verjus and poultry make brilliant partners. This recipe is inspired by some French recipes that feature roasted chicken and verjus. I grilled several Cornish hens along with a few bunches of grapes (yes, grapes right on the grill) and made a dressing of sorts to use to douse the grilled birds. To underscore the fruity notes of the juice and smoky flavor of the birds, I mashed the grilled grapes right into the verjus. Herbs, garlic and fruity olive oil are added to round out the flavors. After resting for ten minutes, the juice from the hens has mingled with the flavors of the dressing and the result is, well…just delicious. I chose Cornish hens because they seemed a bit more festive than a standard chicken. They are definitely pricier per pound than full-sized chickens, but I love how easy they are to grill. They have less fat, cause fewer flare-ups and they cook quickly—in about half the time it takes to cook full-size birds. If you prefer, whole chickens or chicken parts can be used in this recipe as well. —eva @myfrontburner
Pat hens dry with paper towels and place breast side down on a large cutting board. Using a sharp knife or kitchen shears, remove the backbone by cutting along either side of it and then cut away the small rib bones. Turn chicken over and lay out flat. Press firmly on breast to flatten the chicken.
Combine 1 tablespoon salt, 1 teaspoon pepper, 1 tablespoon rosemary, 1 tablespoon thyme, lemon zest, garlic, and 2 tablespoons olive oil in a small bowl. Rub mixture evenly over all surfaces of hens. Place in a baking dish, cover with plastic and refrigerate for 1 hour or up to 12.
Whisk verjus, remaining herbs and remaining olive together in a medium bowl and set aside.
Light a chimney 3/4 full of charcoal. When all the charcoal is lit and covered with gray ash, pour out and spread the coals evenly over two-thirds of the bottom of the grill. Set cooking grate in place, and preheat for 5 minutes. Clean and oil the grate. While the grill heats up, run a skewer horizontally, entering through one thigh, going through breast and then exiting through the other thigh.
Cook hens over hot side of grill, skin side down, grill until skin browns and crisps, 5 to 7 minutes. Arrange cut bunches of grapes in spaces around between hens. Check on them from time to time and rotate them until they begin to blister and char. This can take anywhere from 10 to 15 minutes.
Flip hens over, cover and cook until an instant-read thermometer registers 165 F° when inserted into the thigh, about 12 to 15 minutes. If the birds are beginning to burn, slide them to the cooler side of the grill. Transfer them to serving dish. Carefully remove grapes from grill and remove grapes from the stems, leaving aside a couple of bunches intact to use as a garnish. Add the grilled grapes to the verjus mixture and use a fork to crush the grapes into the mixture. Season with salt and pepper. Pour the grape-verjus sauce over the birds and let rest for ten minutes. Serve.