Besides being a full time college administrator and a part-time blogger, I also help teach writing intensive classes in English Literature at Harvard, and this semester we are studying Darwin’s theory of evolution (in terms of the impact On the Origin of Species had on the 19th century novel). Perhaps that fact, along with a small plate of sprouts I enjoyed at Michael Schlow’s new joint, The Sinclair, the other night, inspired this chicken/egg creation: a partially de-boned Cornish game hen served with roasted Brussels sprouts and tiny wee potatoes, topped with fried onions, bacon hollandaise sauce, and a poached egg. This was NOT an easy dinner to prepare! De-boning the hens still takes me a while, making hollandaise sauce while poaching eggs requires a Doctor Octopus-like physiology, and there were a lot of little component parts that had to be executed all at the same time in order to serve everything hot together. But, dear reader, was it worth it! My tender, juicy hen covered in the runny golden goodness of cousin yolks paired with the earthy herbaceousness of caramelized baby cabbages, white potatoes, and flash fried onions was the perfect offering for a chilly, windy, and wet late winter’s dinner.
Roasted Game Hens, Brussels Sprouts, Tiny Potatoes, Bacon Hollandaise, Poached Egg
2 game hens, breast and back bones removed
2 small whole sweet onions, peeled, trimmed, and boiled in water until tender
20-3o Brussels sprouts
10-20 tiny white potatoes
4 slices bacon
1/2 cup diced white onion
4 egg yolks
2 whole eggs
1 1/2 sticks butter
flour, sea salt, cracked black pepper, white wine vinegar
I’ve presented de-boned game hens once before on this blog (check it out here), when I went into great detail about how to remove the back bones and breast bones of these little beasties – but today I didn’t have the time to take all the pictures. There are some good tutorials on YouTube, too – which I refer to each time I go through this procedure. I’m still not as efficient as it as I’d like (read: it takes me a long time, and I cuss like a sailor throughout the whole process), but the results have been wonderful each time. By removing these portions of the skeleton, you are making these otherwise difficult to eat birdies a breeze! The only bones left are in the legs and wings, but one can carve right through the body of the bird with a delicate knife to gather up rich, whole mouthfuls of succulent, juicy chicken. However, once those bones are removed, you are left with a rather deflated critter, so I like to give it back some shape by stuffing something yummy and roundish back into the chest cavity. In this case I did so with tiny sweet boiled onions, which I’d peeled and trimmed (leaving them whole by keeping just the butt of the bulb intact) and cooked until easily pierced with a fork. Then I trussed up the birds with some twine so they’d maintain their shape. After rubbing them down with salt and pepper, I set them aside until I was ready for them.
I neglected to add these important components of the meal to my set-up shot, so here’s a little something for you now. I only need about a 1/2 cup of diced onion, and I fry the slices of bacon until crispy. Oh, and when I said tiny potatoes, I meant TINY — these bad boys are about the circumference of my thumb, and no more than a knuckle long. And I’ve got baby hands, people.
I’m able to spread both veggies out on the same baking sheet – which is good since they’ll take about the same amount of time to cook. They’ve all been doused in EVOO, salt, and pepper, and the sprouts I lay cut-side down.
The trick to a meal this complex is having everything ready to go at the same time. On my back right burner, I’ve got a water bath set up to double-boil my hollandaise sauce, which starts with a stick of butter melting in the small bowl resting on my tongs. On the right I have a large pot with several inches of water set to a simmer to poach my eggs. The front burner has my largest fry-pan, a couple glugs of EVOO, and some more butter which I heated to a foaming mass before gently placing my birds within. I meant to put them both breast side up at first, but their floppy, skeleton-less anatomy confused me, so one’s face up and the other is face down. No harm done.
“The lost art of the arroser.” I had the pleasure of discovering this term in print just when I needed to find it – since I engaged in said art when preparing tonight’s dinner. This refers to the technique of spooning hot fat oven the up-side of a protein searing in a pan, so it can gently cook on both sides at the same time. I’ve seen this on Iron Chef and other cooking shows, and I’ve mimicked it to great effect in the past, but I’ve never known what it was called. Thanks, New York Times. Anyway, given that it takes two hands – one to tilt the pan, the other to spoon the butteroil – I couldn’t take a good shot of me in action, but suffice to say that as my birds sizzled, I basted them continually with hot golden deliciousness for about 5 minutes of sear time before flipping them.
Damn they look good. I do the same technique for the flip side of each bird before I get them both settled, breast side down (so they’re resting on their “elbows”, so to speak). This is crunch time: it will take 25 minutes for the sprouts, potatoes, and chickens to roast off in a 350° oven. The pan with the veggies goes on the bottom rack – which is closest to the heat source in my oven – and the chickens go in their pan onto the top shelf to finish baking through. I now have 20 or so minutes to get everything else done before I need to plate.
Now it’s egg time. The trick to making both hollandaise sauce and poached eggs is to have everything ready in advance. Water should be at a low simmer for both preparations; the back, smaller burner for the sauce, and the front larger burger for the eggs. Given that I was under pressure to get everything out on time, I didn’t take pictures of each process, but for the hollandaise sauce you can check out this previous posting, which goes into great detail, and for the poached eggs I actually followed Kenji’s most recently posted procedure from Serious Eats. The eggs only take about 4 minutes to poach, and the hollandaise takes about 10 minutes from start to finish. After the 10 minutes prep it took to get everything ready, by the time my sauce and eggs are ready, it is just about on the minute I need to pull out my chicken and veg from the oven.
The roasted sprouts and potatoes form the bed for this little baby chicken, while the oozing yellow yolk and sauce act as its blanket, with a little scattering of fried onion bits for contrast. After cutting the trussing strings, I am able to disengage a leg from the bird with the gentlest of tugs – which, of course, I do daintily with my pinky finger extended in polite form. But once the succulent, tender, and steaming meat makes it to my tongue, all bets are off, and I throw down my silverware and just start sopping and supping with complete abandon. The richness of the sauce and yolk are offset by the salty bacon and deeply caramelized sprouts, and the potatoes add just the right amount of starch to the plate. This was a dinner that was lovely to look at, but even better to eat.