The story begins many years ago when my mother called her youngest daughter to ask a favor. Pam and her husband, Mike, lived a few miles north of Chicago where Mike was a chemist for a major corporation.
“Pammy, could you come up to Hayward for a few days to help me clean out Dad’s things?” asked my mother. My father had died the previous fall and my mother had moved into an apartment in Hayward for the winter. When spring arrived, she was ready to move back into the house in the country with its birds, bears and flowers.
It was May, and school was still in session, so Mike could oversee Carolyn and Ben as a single parent for a few days with after-school help from the neighbors. Carolyn was ten and Ben, eight years old.
When Saturday arrived, Mike asked Ben and Carolyn what they wanted for supper. He assumed that they would want to go out for hamburgers or pizzas after two days of Dad’s cooking. He was about to be surprised.
“I want one of those little chickens,” said Ben. Carolyn said that she wanted one too. The problem was that Mike did not know what they were talking about.
“You want to go to the KFC. Good” said Mike.
“No! We want little chickens to eat here,” said Ben.
“They were good,” added Carolyn.
After a game of twenty questions, Mike finally understood that they were talking about Cornish game hens which Pam had cooked a few times. So father, daughter and son drove to the supermarket and bought three Cornish game hens and the ingredients Mike dredged from his memory of how he roasted them when it was his turn to cook for his housemates when he was in graduate school.
As you might expect from a young man who had to cook and do the dishes, he had created a simple recipe that could be made in one pan. He roasted four birds, one for each guy, and the dish became a regular on the house menu when it was Mike’s turn to cook.
Incidentally, the kids loved “Dad’s little chickens” and Pam still thinks the story is hilarious.
I have cut Mike’s recipe in half, but it still serves four. Of course, you can easily increase the number of birds and adjust the amount of rice and broth you need to accommodate more diners. You will need more baking pans, because you should not crowd the hens.
2 Cornish game hens
1 1/2 cups white rice
3 T butter, divided
2 cups chicken broth
Salt and pepper
Preheat the oven to 375º. Grease or spray an eight by twelve inch glass baking pan. Rinse the rice and put it in the pan. Stir in the broth and a dash or two of black pepper. Dot with a tablespoon of butter.
Rub the game hens with salt and pepper inside and out and put a half tablespoon of butter into each body cavity. Set the birds on the rice, breast side up, and put them on the the center shelf for thirty minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and cover it with aluminum foil. Return it to the oven and bake for another thirty-five minutes.
Melt a tablespoon of butter. Remove the foil and baste the hens with the butter. Put the pan back in the oven and continue baking for another half hour or until the hens are done. An instant-read thermometer should register 165º in the thickest part of the thigh.
Serve with bread and salad.
NOTES: Ben and Carolyn were right. Cornish game hens are little chickens. They were first produced in the 1950‘s by Alphonsine “Te” and Jacques Makowsky at their poultry farm in Connecticut. Alphonsine came up with the idea of crossing small Cornish game cocks with larger chickens. The most successful cross was with a Malayan fighting cock and a white Plymouth rock hen.
The first “Rock Cornish Hens” were meant to be a substitute for the Guinea hens the Makowsky farm had been supplying restaurants after all the birds had been killed in a fire, but the Cornish game hens were an instant success in their own right and are prized today for their succulent white meat.
Jerri especially likes the crispy rice on the edges of the pan.