Broiled hens with herbs and mustard and a simple pan sauce (Poussins aux Herbs et a la Moutarde) is a French classic. A French poussin is a tender and juicy baby chicken that weights about a pound. Cornish hens, as I’ve done here, make an excellent substitute if baby chickens are not available.
It is the simple pan sauce of deglazed wine that elevates this dish to “company worthy.” While the original sauce recipe called for a dry white wine, I’ve substituted Madeira and a bit of chicken broth in this version. The first time we prepared this, we used a dry white wine and it was excellent too. Dry sherry is also a good choice. I think it’s fun to change the wine for different flair. You can also change the herbs or add a touch of curry power or cayenne pepper if you like.
This is a very easy dish and the some portions can be prepared up to twelve hours in advance. If you have a grill or grill pan, you could also grill the hens. I find that the chicken is good served hot or at room temperature, making it an excellent buffet dish.
Today I’ve served it over arugula, but it’s also good over watercress or mixed baby greens shown here. (I got a little carried away with baby sprouts.)
I like to garnish the dish with a touch of red, as seen here with the grape tomatoes. Tomatoes Provencale, green peas and buttered noodles or rice would also be lovely side dishes with this.
Broiled Cornish Hens with Herbs & Mustard and a Simple Pan Sauce
Adapted from French Classics Made Easy by Richard Grausman, serves 4 - 6
3 Poussins or Cornish hens (about 1 pound each), split in half, backs removed
Freshly ground black pepper
1 ½ tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 ½ tablespoons grainy style Dijon mustard (or use all regular Dijon)
1 tablespoon dried tarragon
2 teaspoons dried basil
2 teaspoons dried thyme leaves
1 cup Madeira wine
½ cup low fat, low sodium chicken broth, preferably homemade
2 knobs of cold unsalted butter
Place the chicken halves skin side up in a roasting pan and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. In a small bowl, mix together the two mustards, dried tarragon, basil and thyme leaves. Spread half of the mustard herb mixture over the chicken halves, then turn them over, season with salt and pepper, and spread with the remaining mustard herb mixture. At this point, the chickens can be refrigerated, covered well, for up to 12 hours before proceeding with the recipe.
If you don’t plan on preparing the chickens ahead, I like to prepare the mustard herb mixture at least 6 hours in advance. While it’s not necessary, I find that if you do, the flavors of the mustard and herbs tend to meld better.
When ready to cook, place the chicken halves 3 to 4 inches below a hot broiler, skin side down. When they have browned well on one side, about 8 to 10 minutes, turn and broil on the other side, until well browned, about 7 minutes.
To make the sauce, remove the chickens to a warm platter, cover, and set pan on the stove over high heat. Deglaze the pan by adding the Madeira and chicken broth to the pan, tilting and stirring to loosen the caramelized bits on the bottom of the pan. When the sauce reaches the desired consistency, return the chickens to the pan, baste them with the liquid, then run the chicken back under the broiler for an addition 1 to 2 minutes until the juices of the chicken run clear when pierced with a fork and the internal temperature reaches 160 degrees F.
Remove the chicken to a warm platter and cover. Let the sauce cool for a minute or two in the pan, then add 2 knobs of cold unsalted butter and stir to incorporate. Sauce the chicken with the pan juices and serve right away or at room temperature.
This weekend is Father’s Day. To all of the fathers out there, I wish you a very happy Father’s Day and I hope your day is surrounded by those you love and filled with sunshine, lots of happiness, and all of your favorite foods.
Last year for Father’s Day I made one of our family favorites - my father’s Unfried Chicken in honor of him on this day. It’s “fried” in the oven and turns out crispy and delicious. It's also fabulous for a picnic. I hope you’ll give it a try. It just might become one of your family favorites as well.