Frozen cornish game hens are readily available in most supermarkets, but for some reason they're not widely popular. That's a shame, because they're easy to cook, they make great individual servings, and their meat is juicy and succulent. Here we've roasted them with fennel and grapes for an enticing main course. This recipe works well with a 4- to 5-pound chicken, too. Fennel pollen is used to flavor meats and fish to heavenly effect. Hailed as "fairy dust for food lovers," it's intoxicatingly aromatic and delicious on just about anything. It's not inexpensive, but a pinch or two goes a long way and contributes a real spark of flavor. Dried fennel pollen is available from specialty markets and mail-order sources.
minced fresh tarragon
Cornish game hens (each about 1-3/4 pounds)
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
sprigs of fresh tarragon
Earthbound Farm Organic Fennel bulbs ( cored and cut into 1/4-inch thick slices)
Earthbound Farm Organic Seedless Red Grapes
fennel pollen (optional)
Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 475 degrees F.
Mix the butter and tarragon in a small bowl. Rub the cavities of the hens with the butter and add a sprig of tarragon to each cavity. Season the birds with salt and pepper.
Combine the fennel and grapes in a bowl and toss with a little of the olive oil. Season with salt and pepper and toss again.
Rub the bottom of a rimmed baking sheet or roasting pan with olive oil. Place the hens on the pan, arranging the birds so they don’t touch. Roast for 15 minutes, then reduce the oven temperature to 400 degrees F. Scatter the fennel and grapes around the hens. Sprinkle the birds, fennel and grapes with the fennel pollen, if using. Continue roasting until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the bird registers 160 degrees F, 20 to 25 minutes. If the birds haven’t browned, put them under a broiler until the skin crisps.
Transfer the hens to a serving platter and spoon the grapes and fennel around the birds. Serve immediately.