August 05, 2015

Butterflied Grilled Cornish hen (or chicken)

Many moons ago, I went through a painful break-up and found myself very alone with a sore tender heart on Valentine's Day. I decided I would make myself the fanciest meal I could conjure up and enjoy my own company over candlelight. So I bought a Cornish hen and a great bottle of wine. I stuffed that little bird, roasted it up with some veggies, got out some nice linens, and proceeded to wine and dine myself. It was empowering, delicious, memorable. When I think of it now, it makes me think of this video by the marvellous Andrea Dorfman and Tanya Davis:

That was one of the few times I'd ever eaten Cornish hen, mainly because it's hard to find a source of good local, organic ones. But this summer, I've rekindled my romance with the sweet hen. As it turns out, Cornish hen are not so fancy after all (or even necessarily a hen for that matter), they're actually just a younger version of the regular broiler chicken. I learned that from our friends at the farmer's market who have got me hooked on their organically-raised Cornish hen. They also told me about butterflying the bird (also called spatchcocking, though that sounds kind of naughty doesn't it?) to get quick, even cooking and the most tender meat possible. (And that's saying a lot since Cornish hen is already incredibly moist and tender). 

As a teenager, I always had a song that embodied the feeling of each summer, usually whatever song was being played on the radio the most. I still do that. (In case you're wondering, this is my summer 2015 song). In the same vein, there's sometimes one dish that embodies a particular summer. And this summer's is most definitely this butterflied Cornish hen grilled on wood coals.

I feel like I'm only just now emerging from a somber couple of weeks. First, there was the recent passing of the DARK Act in Congress which was like a punch in the stomach. In case you missed my last post, the DARK Act would kill GMO labelling in America, making it illegal for individual states to have mandatory GMO labelling. So if it gets through the Senate, then Vermont, Maine, and Connecticut's GMO labelling laws would be overturned. The bill was heavily sponsored by big food companies (Kraft, Kellogg's, Coca-Cola, etc) and of course, the folks at Monsanto who seem willing to put any amount of money down to make sure the public won't know which foods contain their GMOs. The only hope now is to convince Senators to vote against this un-democratic bill so it doesn't go into law.

Then, the week after the DARK Act passed, our piglets got attacked by what we think was a coyote. One of them was badly injured and we spent several days trying to nurse him back to health. After three long days performing gruesome wound cleanings of the kind I would have never thought myself capable of, and three long nights sleeping in the tent close to their pen to make sure coyotes didn't come back for them, we made the heartbreaking decision to put the little guy down. I spent the whole day in tears, wondering if we were doing the right thing, if we should keep trying to nurse him back to health, or if we should have put him out of his misery much sooner. During those days of tending to his wounds, I got very attached to him and to the hope that he would make a comeback. He was our favorite from the start: the runt of the pack, small, freckled, with ears so floppy we called him Eeyore. I hope he is in a better place now.

It was my first experience with injured farm animals and making such a difficult decision. It made me question how I feel about eating meat since even if little Eeyore had gotten better, he would have eventually been slaughtered for meat. I've always believed that if a person chooses to be a carnivore, they should be aware of where their meat comes from and what kind of life the animal had. Getting to know a living being whose life you are one day going to take raises all kinds of questions about meat-eating that I've long struggled with, even more so now. My rationale for choosing to eat meat boils down to three main things. The first is that animals kill each other for food in the wild, and we are (albeit more and more distantly) part of that natural world. The second is that many vegetarians I know have experienced severe vitamin B12 deficiencies, having to take supplements in order to get better and I'd rather not cut anything out of my diet that could make me deficient in key nutrients. And finally, purely selfishly, because it tastes so damn good. But not all meat is created equal and eating meat should come with a responsibility. The responsibility to source it carefully, from animals that have lived a happy, healthy life outdoors, with access to fresh air and pasture and who have been slaughtered quickly, painlessly, and humanely. Any day, I would choose a vegetarian diet over eating generic factory-farmed meat, especially given this alarming recent development.

During the three difficult days of nursing our piglet, I spoke to a very kind vet on the phone, a guardian angel who talked us through our options. As he said, choosing to end an animal's life is not an easy thing to do, but an instant death is likely preferable to slow prolonged suffering. And when I think about it, that's probably what I would choose for myself if I were so badly injured. What's for sure is that the bacon we'll be eating this winter will be even more appreciated than ever before.

And while we wait for that tasty bacon, you'll find me grilling the world's most juicy tender Cornish hen, thanks to our friends at Common Wealth Farm.

Click here for my recipe.

Make a tiny wish! Cornish hen wishbone...
Three plump Cornish hen!


  1. So sorry about your piggy. We too have had a season of sadness, which is such a stark contrast to the fun and joy summer usually brings. I've been spatchcocking and grilling small chickens all summer long as well, mostly because it's so easy and makes a lot of leftovers I can use for easy meals for salads and such for the next few days. I just haven't had the energy to cook every night. For whatever reason, I hadn't thought about it as our "dish of the summer" until you mentioned it. But it totally is. The rub you use on yours is almost exactly the one I use when I make fried chicken--it's especially delish when it's had a chance to sit in it over night. I LOVE smoked paprika and will try it the next round of grilling. Hope things turn around for you--and us too. Cheers, Alison

  2. I will try this recipe asap. It sounds delicious!
    About the "eating meat" issue, I agree with you. Humans are omnivorous. We need meat, infact without it we have that kind of deficiency you were talking about. But I agree more with you about moderately eating meat and try to choose meat from good breeders (even if is not always easy to buy meat directly from farmers, at least here in Italy).
    Looking forward to the next recipe! ;)


  3. Well done site...thanks for sharing. Goodlucks

  4. Well done site.., thank for sharing. Goodlucks

  5. Well done site....thanks for sharing. Goodluck

  6. In a study published three years ago, also in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Tufts University nutritionist Katherine Tucker found that nearly 40% of 3,000 adults under age 50 had blood levels of vitamin B12 low enough to cause problems. The B-12 issue is very widespread regardless of diet.

  7. Loved ! and welcome to my kitchen tools site ! kitchen tool set

  8. Did this last night, and aside from burning the skin the birds turned out fantastic. Thanks for the recipe.