November Daring Bakers Challenge / Citrus Braised Spiced Cornish Hens with Pomegranate Apricot Glaze

Audax of Audax Artifax was our November 2012 Daring Cooks’ host. Audax has brought us into the world of brining and roasting, where we brined meat and vegetables and roasted them afterwards for a delicious meal! I can not tell you how excited I am about this challenge! First of all Audax was an amazing host. The information he provided us with was GREAT! I first heard of brining a few years ago, when my mom tried it out with the chicken my dad grills… oh my goodness… the chicken is seriously one of my favorite things. When I get to see my Daddy he makes the chicken and I make the potato salad. Sounds like a complete meal…but I usually end up eating only chicken and he usually ends up eating only potato salad….hey what can I say it’s a win-win.

Surprisingly I never attempted brining on my own until we bought a house. My husband has a set schedule and works every Thanksgiving. I decided to hold our own the weekend following and I was suddenly faced with making my very first turkey. Where to go for a recipe? Turkey can be so dry! Alton Brown, of course, was my answer. I used his brine with home made vegetable stock. The turkey rocked and every year it gets brined regardless of whether it gets roasted or deep fried. While I toyed with writing about my turkey brining experiences, this is a challenge…I wanted to go out of my comfort zone, SO, I decided to brine and roast Cornish Hens.

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First let’s talk a little bit about brining. Brining improves both the taste and the moisture of the end result of your dish. It is definitely worth the extra planning and time. What is brining you ask? It’s a solution comprised of water, salt, and sugar. As Audax discussed, it works because of two scientific principles. The first is diffusion. The second is Osmosis. I know, I know those terms are probably bringing back all those high school science class memories. Heck I can almost hear Mr Schmidt strumming his guitar and singing acid + base = salt + water. Moving on. When you place your cut of meat, your veggies, or your nuts in a brine, it will create an environment in which there is more water, salt, and sugar out side the cells (in the brine) then inside the cells. According to the law of diffusion, the salt and sugar will naturally push into the cells, where they will cause proteins to unravel. Osmosis is very much like diffusion, only in terms of water. The water will also push into the cells and those proteins will help trap it once they unravel. Once you cook the meat, veggies, or nuts, the heat will help the proteins form an even greater barrier to the water, effectively sealing in the moisture. Brining works especially well with drier and tougher cuts of meat, but any kind of meat will work. The difference comes in the amount of time it spends in the brine. Refer to Audax’s challenge HERE to get an idea of how long to brine a specific type of meat. Brining can take awhile, and since you’re working with uncooked meat, be sure to always refrigerate while brining.

There was some discussion on salts. I have always used kosher. No matter what kind you use, measure carefully and use the kind stated in the recipe. Much like flour, different salts have different weights. So, a cup of kosher measures and weighs differently then a cup of table salt etc.

Now after brining, you have a choice. You can immediately cook your meat, or you can let it rest. A common compliant with brining, is the skin. If you are cooking chicken or turkey and you can’t wait for that crispy skin.. I highly recommend the following process. If you are cooking a meat that is skinless, or you do not care if the skin is crispy go ahead and proceed with your recipe after towel drying your meat, veggies, or nuts.

If you choose to dry, Whole brined birds are best dried over night, but parts can dry in several hours. Transfer the poultry to a cooling rack set inside a rimmed baking sheet. Towel dry, and refrigerate.
This process will eliminate some of the moisture from the surface of your bird.

Finally, much like a marinade, a brine should not be saved or used in anyway after the initial brining process. Always discard your brine!

The second part of our challange was roasting the meat, veggie, or nut that we brined. Please refer to Audax’s challenge HERE for roasting times.

Like I said earlier I choose to brine cornish hens. They have been on my “to make” list for quite some time. I did a little research on the history, very fascinating. A farmer women in New York lost her guinea fowl flock to fire. In order to keep her customers happy she set out to make an even better flock and crossbred birds from around the world to achieve a hen with short legs and plump breast. Her customers were over the moon. Today the “Cornish Hen” is known the world over and can be found in almost every supermarket including Walmart. The women retired to florida and passed only a few years ago in her 90’s. Pretty darn cool….ok on to the recipe.

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Citrus Brined Spiced Cornish Hens with Pomegranate Apricot Glaze
(Adapted from Cooking with Melody
)
4-6 Cornish Hens (about 2 pounds each)
2 tablespoons garlic finely minced (about 6 large)
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoons cumin
1 teaspoons coriander
1/2 turmeric
8 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
1 cup chicken stock
1/2 cup dry white wine
freshly ground pepper and and salt

Citrus Brine
1 1/2 gallons of water
1 cup KOSHER salt
1/2 cup granulated sugar
the rind of two oranges
the rind of lemon zest
2 cups ice cubes

Pomegranate Apricot Glaze
3 tablespoons Unsalted butter
1/4 cup chopped onion
3/4 cup white wine
3/4 cup chicken broth
1 cup apricot preserves
1 1/2 teaspoons pomegranate molasses
salt and pepper

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To Brine:
– If you have a pot big enough hold all your cornish hens in the brine, start with that. If you do not and will be brining in ziplock bags you may start with a saucepan.
– In your chosen pot/pan, place all the brine ingredients EXCEPT the ice.
– Bring to boil and stir until salt/sugar is dissolved.
– Remove from heat, pour in ice, and place into refrigerator until brine is cool to at least room temperature.
– When brine has cooled, transfer into ziplock bags to brine hens, or, if your pot is big enough just place then hens inside the pot with a cover.
– Refrigerate hens in brine for 2-3 hours, taking care that all parts of the hens get covered with brined.
– When finished, discard brine, lightly rinse the birds, and towel dry.
– Place hens breast side up on a cooling rack that is placed into a rimmed baking sheet. Refrigerate overnight and up to 24 hours.

For Glaze:
– Melt butter in medium saucepan over medium heat.
– Add onions and sauté 3 minutes, or until softened.
– Add broth and wine and boil until reduced to about 3/4 of a cup.
– Stir in molasses and preserves and simmer until sauce is thickened about 5-8 minutes longer.
-Salt and pepper to taste and set glaze aside.

To Roast:
– Preheat oven to 450 Degrees.
– In a small bowl mix garlic, cinnamon, cumin, coriander, turmeric, and melted butter.
– Place hens in a roasting pan breast side up. Tie legs with a kitchen string. Lightly season with salt and freshly ground pepper.
– Rub spice butter mixture all over hens, including underneath skins.
– Place in oven for 15 minutes then reduce temperature to 400 degrees.
– Add stock and wine and cook for an additional 15 minutes, basting half way through.
– After 15 minutes brush hens generously with glaze and return to oven until hens register 165 degrees, and juices run clear. (another 15 or so minutes depending on the size of your hens)
– When finished roasting transfer to serving platter, tent with foil, and let rest 15 minutes before serving.

*Note any unused glaze can be spooned over the hens at serving.

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Holy Cow these were AH-MAZ-ING……crazy good. They were not gamey at all and so moist! Totally worth the time and effort! I would make (and eat) them again in an heartbeat!!!

Dream Bake Believe
Love, Steffie

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2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. andy
    Nov 15, 2012 @ 21:05:15

    While I’ve never eaten cornish hens, yours looks amazing!!!! Great job.

    Reply

  2. Audax Artifex
    Nov 16, 2012 @ 00:06:41

    WOWOWOW what amazing looking hens you have made!!!! The colour of the skin is so brown and golden. A marvellous job on this challenge. Bravo to you for such fabulous results. Cheers from Audax in Sydney Australia,

    Reply

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