My family has always insisted that the centerpiece of our Christmas feast be some kind of show-stopping roast. We’re talking a standing rib roast or whole beef tenderloin. And, as if these prizes were not already rich enough in themselves, we tend to pair them with an extravagant sauce, usually bearnaise. Hey, it’s Christmas.
My challenge for this column was to come up with a Christmas dinner showstopper just as glamorous as the usual stars, but somehow leaner. It couldn’t be pork because my parents don’t love pork. It might’ve been turkey, but we just featured it at Thanksgiving. And roast chicken — much as I love it — just seemed too prosaic for a once-a-year holiday feast.
Then it occurred to me that Cornish game hens might fit the bill. You can say that they’re small, or at least small-ish, but I prefer to think about them as individual. They were created during the ’50s, after all, by a French couple in Connecticut who wanted something that didn’t exist at the time — a succulent bird suitable for a single serving.
They realized their dream by crossing a Cornish game chicken with a White Rock (or Plymouth) chicken. Despite the name, there is nothing gamy about this bird. On the contrary, it tastes like what it is — really moist and delicious chicken that is sized just right to serve one per customer.
To make sure the white meat stays moist, I pre-seasoned the birds with some salt. Then I flavored the little guys by stuffing some of everyone’s favorite poultry herbs — thyme and sage — under the skin. They’re plenty delicious as is, straight out of the oven, so don’t fret if you don’t have time to make the sauce.