I give love to the people around me by cooking for them. I have learned from Mistress that the word for this in love language is “Service”. She gives me the words to describe my acts, and in so doing, enriches my ability to articulate my life. Like a Mother who teaches her baby to walk, she is connecting the motor with the mind. Connecting with her through all senses enriches my range and ability to express myself through food. I lay this at her feet. Thank you, Mommy! Thank you, Mistress.
The stuffing in this dish is a delight on its own. Indeed, the quantities provided here will give you enough to stuff each bird generously, but to also create a separate dish.
I recently had the opportunity to serve this at a a celebratory extended family feast. This was the first of the many dishes on offer to disappear, and was the most requested recipe of the evening.
Please take care to get quality birds. Birds do not hide the faults of poor upbringing as well as other animals, and poultry is the least forgiving—ironic considering its popularity. Buy organic, buy local, make a difference—yes, it is more expensive, but if you don’t want a whipping from me (and I have no idea how to do it properly), then be a good citizen and think of it as a treat for you and your body and for the people around you. 90% of what good tastes like is just that you paid enough for the food you eat (and no, this is not an excuse to overpay for everything at you-know-which, ahem, whole foods market).
If you do not have access to large spinach leaves, you can also use chard leaves, or the leaves of a Savoy cabbage. Chard will need a wee bit more time to blanch, say 2 minutes, and the cabbage will need 4 minutes.
If you are not able to buy plain, unseasoned sausage meat, you can buy a rosemary-sage Italian sausage and cut them out of the casings. If you do so, you will no longer need to add the brown sugar, and can cut the quantity of fresh herbs in half.
- 4 Cornish game hens
- 8 large slices of prosciutto (assuming that two can wrap the birds—otherwise, get more)
- 4 heads of garlic, crepe paper pushed off, and just the tip of the top cut off
- 100 g of duck fat, goose fat, or butter (about one stick)
- 1 cup of oyster mushrooms, minced
- 800 g of plain sausage meat
- Soffritto of sage, rosemary, and salt…about 20 leaves of sage, 2 sprigs of rosemary, blades picked off, all minced together
- 1 tbsp of brown sugar
- 1 cup of dried figs, cut in quarters, tough stems removed, and rehydrated in ½ cup of calvados or other brandy
- 2 eggs
- 1 cup of freshly grated parmigiano
- 1 slice of stale sourdough bread, soaked in just enough milk that it can absorb it all (excess liquid to be discarded)
- 60 or so very large spinach leaves (don’t use baby spinach, but the mature stuff), thoroughly and carefully washed
- 1 cup of whole cooked chestnuts, removed from their shells, and very coarsely chopped (we want large pieces)
- 1 cup of dry white wine, such as sauvignon blanc
- Nutmeg to taste
- Cinnamon to taste
- 2 shallots, minced fine
- Zest and juice of 1 unwaxed, organic lemon
- Olive oil q.o.b.
- Salt and pepper to taste
Prepare the birds. Bring a large pot of salted water to boil on very high heat. Take care to remove any feathers and hair from the birds, rinse them thoroughly inside and out, and singe them over an open flame. Once the water comes to a boil, plop them into the pot and cook them thus for about 5 minutes. Remove and set aside. You do not need this water, but you might save it for later to receive all the bones and other debris as the basis of a stock. Up to you. Regardless, do not toss, and keep the water boiling.
Blanch the thoroughly rinsed and cleaned spinach leaves a few at a time in the boiling water. Takes about 1 minute each. Set them aside, neatly stacked.
Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4.
Make the stuffing. Sauté the mushrooms over medium heat in a small quantity of olive oil until they have released their liquid, about 5 minutes, then toss in the shallots, and continue cooking until translucent, perhaps another 2 minutes. Add the figs with their liquid and cook another minute to reduce. Add in the cup of white wine, and cook to reduce another 5 minutes or so, cooking until the liquid begins to look unctuous and has reduced by about half. Add this mix to a very large bowl and let cool. Mix in all the other ingredients for the stuffing except the spinach leaves. Knead the mix together with your hands, and once it has achieved stickiness and solidity, it is ready.
Make small balls, somewhere between a marble and golf ball, and wrap each one in a single spinach leaf (hence the importance of larger spinach leaves). Make them until you have used up the stuffing. Before stuffing the birds, lean heavily onto each bird to crush the breastbone, which will make it possible to flatten the bird a little. Stuff each bird with a few of the sausage-spinach balls, and then truss the bird shut by tucking the legs into the skin flap if you are able. If you cannot, it is not the end of the world.
Slather the hens with butter or duck fat, and generously salt and pepper them. Wrap them carefully with the prosciutto, tucking the piece covering the breast under the piece covering the back. They should overlap and thoroughly cover the white meat. Lay the hens breast-side down in a well-greased roasting tin with plenty of room around each bird. Place the cut garlic into the pan between them.
For the remaining stuffed spinach leaves, place them all snugly packed together into a well-buttered copper or ceramic bake-and-serve dish, preferably the oblong Parisian style, and slip them into the oven on the rack just below the birds.
Cook the hens until the bottom skin is looking quite golden-brown and crispy, about 35 minutes. Take them out of the oven and flip the birds over taking care not to rip the skin or pull away the prosciutto (which should have stiffened enough by now to hold). Return the hens to the oven and cook only until the breast side has taken colour, about 10-15 minutes. If you see that they are not taking colour, then increase the heat at the 10 minute mark to 210°C/425°F and cook for that last 5 minutes.
Remove the birds from the oven, turn them to be breast side down one last time, and cover the dish well with aluminium foil and let them sit. Carefully remove the birds to a warm serving platter and surround with the garlic. Keep them covered. Deglaze the roasting tin on your stove top with a generous quantity of white wine over high heat. Using a wooden spoon, scrape up the browned bits and stir to emulsify. Cook to reduce by half. Drizzle this over the birds. The cloves of garlic can be squeezed from the bulb like toothpaste. This will serve 8 people. Enjoy.