Thursday, June 14, 2012

Broiled Cornish Hens with Herbs & Mustard and a Simple Pan Sauce – a French Classic

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
Kosher salt
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

Pan sauce:
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.


  1. I am amazed at how large your Cornish hens are. They look beautiful.

  2. Beautiful Sam! Ever since I've started my blog, I've said to myself, "I must do Cornish hens" and never have. This wonderful and elegant presentation has me inspired. I love the fact that it can be served at room temperature. And it looks beautiful on those greens. Thanks for posting this. Pinning.

  3. Your butterflying is perfect..We have a fave dish w/ cornish hens too..Saving yours:)

  4. They look marvelous! A wonderful summer meal.



  5. This sounds wonderful Sam! Thank you for the recipe.

  6. This looks elegant, tasty and easy to execute. I, too, often serve chicken when hosting a large number of guests for the very reason you stated--it's good hot or at room temperature. I'm filing this way for soon.


  7. Delicious! Beautiful colors and the meat looks perfect. Moist and caramelized in just the right spots!

    A Winner!


  8. This looks scrumptious, Sam! I am sorry to admit that I am a bit afraid of my broiler. So I have been slowly working up to cooking a split chicken under my broiler. The crisp, golden skin on you birds tells me I should have nothing to fear.

  9. Hi Sam,
    This is a "Company Worthy" dish, that you gave a beautiful presentation. We love Cornish Hens and this will be a great recipe for us to try.

    Hope you are having a great week and thank you so much for sharing with Full Plate Thursday.
    Come Back Soon!
    Miz Helen

  10. Cornish Game Hens are always special. They would be great for Father's Day! Delicious.

  11. I have not cooked Cornish Hens for ages, but this is inspiring me; gorgeous!

  12. This looks a really yummy recipe, certainly on my 'to try' list. Thanks Diane

  13. Love your cornish hens..I can tell they are really tender and succulent.

  14. The rub and pan sauce sound delectable! I'll be saving this one to try.

    I hope Meakin has a wonderful father's day!

  15. beautiful! thanks for sharing!

  16. wow this looks so so good, your food always makes me hungry :-)

  17. Waw, Sam! What a stylish & elenat French inspired dish!

    MMMMMM,..;Very appetizing looking too! :)

  18. Perfect Sam... A great summer recipe... and one that I can even do! xv

  19. Your game hens look fantastic, but I'm really eying that amazing Unfried Chicken. What a nice way to honor your dad :)

  20. Beautiful and delicious looking, love your presentation!

  21. Sounds delicious - I just love chicken with mustard flavours!


  22. Cornish hens are some of my favorite dishes in any configuration, mainly because of their awesome presentation potential, like y'all show here. I like this recipe, especially since I can also do it on the grill.

  23. I love Cornish hens - I've never broiled them - lovely recipe and they look SO good!
    Mary x

  24. This really looks delicious, Sam. I love the simplicity of it. And the Unfried Chicken looks pretty wonderful, too.

  25. I had a similar dish at a friend's house this week and was going to ask for the recipe, but now that I have read your post there is no need. This must be delicious!

  26. Fabulous looking hens, Sam. When I did the Two Fat Ladies chicken recipe, they mixed dry mustard with butter and tobascon and slathered it all over. (Fattening!!) Your idea has all the flavor and less calories! :)

  27. this is the picture of the perfect dinner to me! Love how you did the chicken with the seasonings and simplicity! It looks amazing

  28. Hi Sam, this recipe looks seriously delicious, I really like poultry and I haven't had hens in a few years. I also like the idea of serving it with arugula, I've got some growing in the garden, as well as the other herbs you've mentioned!

    I'm also going to give your "un-fried chicken" a try. I'm not huge on fried foods, so this is right up my ally!

    Thanks for the "double header" recipes! Have a wonderful week!


  29. These cornish hens are beautiful, but I'm dying to try the unfried chicken. I'm saving your deli recommendation for Palm Beach - knew you'd have a great place!! Thanks for the help ~

  30. I can totally enjoy this meal...Perfect for all seasons and perfect for all guests...casual to elegant.



  31. I love Cornish hens. You recipe looks so delicious. I would love to try it soon. Thanks for sharing with us.

  32. Cornish hens are one of my favorites to eat and cook. I can't wait to try this one, Sam! I'm drooling just looking at your pictures.

  33. You have inspired me, Sam. This looks wonderful and your presentation is exceptional!

  34. Oh, the colors!
    I love it when you creative cooks make food into art :)

  35. Cornish hens used to be my go to meal for company. I shall have to go to them soon and try your version.

  36. Your cornish hens looked perfectly cooked. I don't like the results I get with the broiler on my new stove so I think I might give these a try on the grill. The only problem is that I won't have all the lovely pan juices.

  37. Many years ago when I was first married, cornish hens were the go-to special dinner. They were not very expensive but absolutely delicious. I need to try your recipe as I have not prepared hens in years.

    Lovely photos as always, Sam.


  38. What a versatile recipe Sam….I love all of the herbs that are used for this . . . so very French! I know that even served cold, that I devour this! Your photography skills are spectacular and so professional! Be well, big hugs….Roz

  39. Sam, you have such beautiful presentation skills.


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