We bought a couple of Cornish game hens to use for Thanksgiving dinner (which Jhan and I miraculously had to ourselves this year), but we never got around to using them. Christmas rolled around, and we were on the road, so we didn't get to cook these delicious little birds until the New Year. And boy were they delicious!
The Food (Jhan)
I love Cornish hens (eds. note: I love them too!)! You can prepare them in so many ways and so easily too. These were our New Years day dinner so I decided to stuff them with a cornbread and green apple stuffing and slather the hens in herb butter for roasting. (I actually modified a Bobby Flay recipe for a turkey basting butter.)
This is so simple: a stick of soft butter, chopped parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme (sound familiar - how'bout a little Simon and Garfunkel for ambiance while you're cooking?), a tablespoon chopped shallot or one clove minced garlic, grey salt and cracked pepper. You can vary the proportions of the herbs or do 1-2 tablespoons of each herb. For this dish I went with more parsley and sage and less rosemary and thyme.
Put the butter, herbs, shallot or garlic and seasonings into the food processor to blend. Rub the hens all over with the herb butter, making sure to get a good deal up under the skin covering the breast meat. Sprinkle the hens with a bit more salt and pepper and they're ready for the roasting pan.
I put the hens on a bed of sliced onions to cook and toward the end of the cooking time I add some chicken stock to the pan - you'll get a wonderful rich gravy with this method.
A note about tying the legs up: I feel that a stuffed hen will cook faster without the legs tied up but for aesthetic purposes and some might say for juiciness, you will want to tuck the wings under the hen and tie up the legs during cooking.
I wanted to keep the plating warm, simple and homey. White plates would have been too sterile for a dish that I wanted to appear warm and inviting. I also knew that I wanted just a touch of something give some contrasting color, so I made Jhan buy some asparagus to have with the hens.
I was a bit frantic when I first saw the hens come out of the oven, because Jhan cooked them without their legs tied, and they looked a little too much like models for some chicken porn magazine. However, Jhan expertly tied their legs after removing them from the oven and we were back to G-rated territory. As a last touch, I placed a bit of sage and thyme leaf stuffed between the two birds on the plate to add some color for the close up shots.
The Lighting and Photography
I'm not sure what it was, but something inspired me to light this shoot as simply as possible. As a result, I shot the hens with only two lights, both to the right of the dish, through a reflector. I placed a piece of white foam core to the left of the dish and another behind the dish, to act as reflectors.
I actually spent a fair amount of time beforehand testing various lighting and plating set ups using pomegranates as stand-ins for the hens, but in the actual shoot, the lighting seemed different. I think that simply changing what's on the plate can dramatically affect how the lighting works for a shot. That makes it very difficult to know ahead of time how a shot is going to come out - and that's a problem.
Lighting is part science, but also part voodoo magic. I'm not too good at voodoo magic.