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One-Pot Cornish Game Hens with Mushroom-Barley Pilaf: two hens, brown and crispy from roasting, arranged in a Staub Perfect Pan with sage sprigs atop the finished mushroom-barley pilaf.

One-Pot Cornish Game Hens with Mushroom-Barley Pilaf

This is an extra-special one-pot meal that's perfect for Sunday Dinner, Date Night, or Thanksgiving/Christmas Dinner for two. This recipe provides two generous servings of hen and about 4 servings of pilaf (because the leftovers are FANTASTIC as a side dish for another meal). If you serve with another side, you can get 4 servings of hen (just cut each hen in half). 

Course Entree
Cuisine French
Keyword Christmas Dinner for two, cornish game hens, date night, holiday meal, one-pot meal, roast cornish game hens, Thanksgiving Dinner for two
Prep Time 40 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour 30 minutes
Resting Time 10 minutes
Total Time 2 hours 20 minutes
Servings 2 –4

Ingredients

FOR THE CORNISH GAME HENS

  • 2 Cornish game hens
  • 1/3 cup unsalted butter softened
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper freshly ground
  • 15 herb sprigs (sage, rosemary, savory, and thyme, for example. This number is approximate: you should have enough sprigs to loosely cover each bird, stick a couple in the cavity, and garnish the finished dish; or see Recipe Note #1)
  • 1 lemon quartered
  • 1 shallot halved

FOR THE MUSHROOM-BARLEY PILAF

  • 1/2 cup shallot finely minced
  • 4 oz cremini mushrooms trimmed and chopped into small dice
  • 1/3 cup dried porcini mushrooms rehydrated and finely minced (see Recipe Note #2)
  • 3/4 cup pearl barley rinsed (see Recipe Note #3)
  • 1 tbsp porcini oil (or use extra virgin olive oil)
  • 1/4 tsp kosher salt (or to taste)
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper freshly ground
  • 1/4 cup white wine
  • 3 cups vegetable broth (preferably the liquid used to rehydrate the porcini mushrooms; see Recipe Note #2)

Instructions

  1. Remove the giblet packet (if present) from the cavity of the game hens. Carefully rinse the game hens under cold water. Thoroughly pat dry with paper toweling. Let sit at room temperature for 30 minutes.

  2. Set a rack in the center of the oven and preheat oven to 375º. Make sure that the hens are completely dry: if not, pat dry again with paper toweling. Sprinkle some of the salt and pepper (about 1/8 tsp of each for each bird) into the cavities of the game hens. Stuff 1 lemon quarter, 1/2 shallot, and 2 herb sprigs into each cavity. Mix the remaining salt and pepper into the butter and rub all over the hens. Set hens aside.

  3. Set a large, heavy-bottomed, oven-safe skillet or Dutch oven over medium heat and add the porcini oil (or olive oil). Add the shallots, fresh mushrooms, barley, salt, and pepper. Sauté until the vegetables have softened slightly and the barley begins to give off a nutty, toasted fragrance, 5–7 minutes. Bring the heat to high while stirring and add the wine. Continue stirring until about half of the wine has been absorbed/reduced. Stir in the vegetable broth and rehydrated mushrooms. Remove from the heat.

  4. Set a small rack into the bottom of the pot (see Recipe Note #4). Place the hens on top of the rack (balance them against the sides of the pot, if necessary). 

  5. Place the pot on the oven's middle rack and roast for 50 minutes, turning the pot 180º (a half turn) once during the roast. 

  6. Check the temperature of the hens by inserting an instant-read thermometer into the meatiest part of the thigh: the final temperature must reach 165º. Continue roasting as needed. Also take note of the degree of browning: if the hens are browning too much underneath the herbs, cover them with a piece of foil. If they are not browning enough, remove the herb sprigs and turn the broiler on high for the last ~5 minutes of cooking (estimate based on the temperature of the thigh meat). Watch carefully to prevent burning and give the pot a half-turn once during the broil.

  7. Remove the hens to a cutting board and rest for 10 minutes. Remove the rack from the pot and fluff the mushroom-barley pilaf with a rice paddle or fork. Return the game hens to the pot, if you'd like, and serve garnished with additional herb sprigs.

Recipe Notes

  1. You can also mix your favorite Italian dried herb mix with the butter, salt, and pepper. 
  2. To rehydrate the mushrooms, bring 3 1/2 cups of water to a boil in a saucepan. Add the mushrooms, turn off the heat, and lid the saucepan. Let sit for 45 minutes. Remove the rehydrated mushrooms (reserve the liquid in the saucepan!). Rinse well, then pat dry with paper toweling before mincing. Strain the rehydrating liquid through a strainer lined with a layer of paper toweling. Keep this liquid to use for the vegetable broth.
  3. Don't use quick-cooking barley. This method yields a barley pilaf with a bit of texture and chew, which is how we prefer it. If you like your barley to be completely soft, soak it overnight, then drain well and proceed with the recipe.
  4. For best results, the game hens should be sitting slightly above the level of the liquid. I used the rack insert from a pressure cooker/instant pot and set the hens on top, balanced against the sides of the pot. (See photo in preparation collage in the post above)

WORK AHEAD: you can prepare the mushrooms and mushroom broth (rehydrating liquid) the night before. Store in airtight containers in the refrigerator.