For Christmas Eve this year there were a number of requests to not serve ham or turkey or prime rib but to do something a little different. I had a sudden idea that Cornish Game Hens with apricot and date stuffing would be fun since I only had 6 for dinner. Using a fruit and couscous stuffing was a nice break from traditional sage and bread dressing we had on Thanksgiving. The couscous stuffing in this recipe is great on its own or as a cold salad, so keep it in mind when you need a side. And if you have a vegetarian joining your dinner party swap the chicken broth for vegetable broth and grill a few nice large veggies (portabellas, squash and eggplant) and place on a bed the couscous for them and they will be just as happy as the carnivores eating game hen.
Cornish Game Hens with Apricot & Date Couscous Stuffing
For the Cornish Hens
- 6-12 Hens one per person if you have big eaters or a half per person for the dainty eaters
- 1 ½ Cup of apricot jelly
- 2 Tbsp chopped garlic the stuff in the jar will work fine
- 2 Tbsp low sodium soy
- Olive oil for the outside of the hens
- Salt & Pepper
- Your favorite season salt or poultry spice
For the Couscous Stuffing
- 1 Box of unflavored couscous about 12oz
- 1 Large onion chopped
- 4 Stalks of celery chopped
- 2-4 Carrots depending on size peeled and chopped
- 1 Cup dried apricots chopped
- ½ Cup pitted dates chopped (if you dislike dates use golden raisins)
- 3 Cloves of garlic diced or micro-planed
- 1 Cup chicken broth
- ½ Cup white wine
- 3 Tbsp olive oil
- 1 Tsp dry sage
- 1 Tsp dry thyme
- ¼ Tsp ground coriander
- Black pepper and salt to taste
- Zest of one lemon
- Large bunch of fresh parsley diced
- 10-15 Fresh basil leaves diced
Start by adding a drizzle of olive oil to a medium sized pot on the stove, when hot add onion, celery, and carrots and let cook until onion is slightly clear and the veggies are softened.
Put in the garlic and the dry spices. Add the white wine, remaining olive oil, and chicken broth, check the amount of liquid recommended on your box of couscous and adjusted per those directions, bring to a boil. Stir in couscous and remove from heat, let rest for 5 minutes, fluff with a fork.
While the couscous is resting chop the apricots, dates, and fresh herbs. Stir them into the cooked couscous. Last add the lemon zest.
Taste the mixture at this point and adjust the spices to your taste, it will most likely need both salt and pepper. The salt needed will vary based on the chicken broth you have used. If the couscous is bland you can also use some of the juice of the lemon you have just zested to give it added brightness.
The couscous can be set aside for a few minutes or a full day before you use it to stuff the hens. On its own the couscous is a nice hot side dish or can be served as a cold salad that travels well for school lunches and picnics.
For the Hens
Thaw and clean your hens and let them dry and come to room temperature. Pre-heat oven to 350. The hens will cook more evenly and hold stuffing better if you tie the legs together and tuck the wing tips under. These are little hens, no need to fully truss the bird, if you want to go crazy and do all that work truss away. Otherwise just knot a piece of cooking twine around one leg and then wrap around the other leg and knot together tightly, crossing one leg over the other. Tuck the wings back and under the bird to protect the wing tips from burring.
Rub the outside of hens with olive oil. Salt the cavity and then stuff with the couscous. Don’t over stuff just a ¼ of a cup or so of the stuffing will fit in each bird.
Salt, pepper and poultry spice the outside of the birds. Place the hens breast-side up on a large broiler pan sprayed with cooking spray. Leave room for air to circulate around the birds, don't over crowd.
Bake at 350 for 40-45 minutes. While the birds bake, mix up the glaze. Put the jam, garlic and soy in a bowl and microwave for 30 second so it will mix easily. Taste and adjust the soy and garlic to you taste. Depending on the thickness of your jam you may need to add more or less soy to get the right consistency.
When the hens are almost done baking, add the glaze and turn up the oven to 425 bake for just 5-10 more minutes be sure not to burn the glaze and that a thermometer in the breast reads 165.
Allow to rest for about 10 minutes then remove from the broiler pan.Serve the hens whole or split down the center. The birds are very simple to slice in half with either a heavy duty steak knife or butcher knife. Warm the extra couscous and serve on the side. Enjoy.