A savory-spicy marinade is the secret to these intensely flavorful and juicy grilled Cornish Game Hens. The fragrant marinade is spiked with a generous dash of Five-Spice Powder, a popular Asian spice blend which includes Szechuan peppercorns, cinnamon, fennel seeds, cloves and star anise.
Our version of this dish is inspired by and adapted from a recipe by foodwriter Joyce Jue, which was originally intended for quail. We loved the flavors so much that we wanted to try it with a bird that had a little more meat on it – the Rock Cornish Game Hen. The game hen is perfect for this treatment; firm and meaty, but small enough for each bird to be served as a single portion. Well, it turned out so well that it’s gained a permanent place in regular rotation at our house, and is a real favorite with dinner guests.
An hour or three (or up to overnight) in the marinade makes the game hens incredibly succulent and delicious. Whether grilled or broiled, the juicy, aromatically seasoned game hens have a pleasantly sweet charred flavor which comes from the sugar in the mixture.
Try these tender little birds served up with the amazingly delicious dipping sauce known as “nuoc cham” in Vietnamese. One of the key ingredients is the pungent condiment commonly called fish sauce. Don’t be put off by the aroma – this stuff is addictively good! One taste, and you’ll be hooked.
Five-Spice Grilled Cornish Game Hens
- 2 Cornish Game hens, 16 – 24 oz each
- 4 cloves garlic
- 3 green onions, white part only, or 2 shallots
- 1 1/2 Tbsp sugar
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp black pepper
- 1/2 tsp five-spice powder
- 1 1/2 Tbsp fish sauce
- 1 1/2 Tbsp soy sauce
- 1 1/2 Tbsp Shaoxing cooking wine or dry sherry
Nuoc Cham dipping sauce (click here for the recipe)
Open up each game hen by cutting along backbone with a pair of kitchen shears or heavy knife. Spread the hen flat on a cutting board, breast-side up. Place your palm on the bump of the breast bone, then press down firmly to “pop” the cartilage and flatten the hen as much as possible.
Add the garlic, onions, sugar and salt to a food processor and process until they are finely chopped. Combine with the remaining ingredients to form a loose, chunky paste. Rub the mixture all over the hens inside and out and place them into a large zip lock bag along with any remaining marinade. Squeeze as much of the air out as possible to keep the marinade in close contact with the hens. Place in the refrigerator for 1 – 3 hours or up to overnight, turning occasionally to ensure even distribution of the marinade.
Remove the marinating hens from the refrigerator about 30 minutes before cooking to allow them to come to room temperature. Prepare a charcoal or gas grill, or preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Remove the hens from the marinade and scrape off the excess. If using a charcoal or gas grill, place the game hens on the grill and cook for 30 – 40 minutes, turning and moving them frequently to prevent burning. If roasting in the oven, place them skin-side up on a roasting pan (preferably with a rack) and roast at 400 degrees for 30 – 40 minutes.
Whichever method is used, cook until the hens are cooked through and the skin is golden brown and lightly charred in spots. The actual cooking time will depend on the size of the bird. To check for doneness, pierce the leg/thigh joint with a thin-bladed knife or skewer – if the juices run clear, the hens are done.
Serve hot or at room temperature with Nuoc Cham dipping sauce on the side.
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