Orange and Honey Hens with Sesame for Rosh Hashanah
Considering all the meals we have to cook for Rosh Hashanah, the pre-fast Yom Kippur dinner, a Break-the-Fast meal, and Sukkot, preparing for the holidays is no easy task. It’s a jumble of feasts, all close together, and frequently with extended family. That means a lot of food, more festive recipes and, most likely, your good tablecloth, chinaware, and utensils. The work can seem endless.
A good way to help make it all easier is to prepare as much in advance as possible yet without having it seem as if the food is warmed over. One of my favorite ways to accomplish this is to serve Rock Cornish Hens.
Here’s why. First, while roasted chicken is a time-honored dish for Shabbat and other holidays, Cornish hens seem more appropriate for one of the high holiday meals. They’re much smaller than regular chickens, which means that you make several of them rather than one large bird. Presenting them together on a platter is visually attractive, making the dish less ordinary, more celebratory.
The small size also means they cook faster and, although you can roast them whole and serve one small bird per person, more often than not one Cornish hen weighs about 1-1/2 pounds, enough for two people, so you can split them in half before roasting, cutting the time even more.
In addition, Cornish hens, like regular chicken, are fairly mild tasting and you can season them, glaze them, sauce them and so on with all sorts of flavorings that suit your family. Sprinkle them with ras el hanout or with garlic, oregano, and lemon. Coat them with curry and baste with pineapple juice or with dukkah and baste with white wine. Serve them savory, baked over a bed of shredded vegetables, or sweeten them with a glaze of honey and bake them with fruit. There’s almost no limit to how you can make these little chickens tasty, unusual and different each time you cook them.
Cornish hens can be made ahead, as you can see in the recipe for Orange and Honey Hens with Sesame. Although the honey gives the dish a sweet undertone, it is balanced well with refreshing fresh ginger and orange peel. Soy sauce and hoisin sauce add a savory quality. I add fresh lemongrass to the mix when I can find it – it gives the birds a more citrusy zing – but it isn’t essential. I usually serve this dish with sautéed greens (spinach, kale, or chard) and cooked Israeli couscous.
By the way, although Cornish hens are sometimes sold as “game hens,” they are not game; they are a breed of broiler chicken, grown for a large breast size at a younger age than a traditional broiler chicken. In addition, they are referred to as hens, but they may not be. But they are flavorful, succulent and oh so handy for special occasions!
Ronnie Fein’s recipes appear in The Jewish Week Food & Wine each month. She is a cookbook author, food writer and cooking teacher in Stamford. She is the author of The Modern Kosher Kitchen and Hip Kosher. Visit her food blog, Kitchen Vignettes, at www.ronniefein.com, friend on Facebook at RonnieVailFein, Twitter at @RonnieVFein, Instagram at RonnieVFein.