Roasted Cornish Hens

Serves 2 to 4

Cornish hens are an immature hybrid from the Cornish chicken, developed in the mid-1950s for their breasts and size. They are 5 or 6 weeks old and weigh about 2 pounds ready to cook. Even though they are called hens, they may be either male or female. Names include Rock Cornish hens, poussin, Cornish hen and Cornish chicken. Cook as with any chicken, adjusting for size.

Some people are happy with just half a Cornish hen; others want a whole one for themselves. Certainly when entertaining, don’t skimp. Most women are happy with half of one, so I add an extra Cornish hen for each four or five people. That gives plenty of second helpings for those that want more, and leftovers are good reheated or cold.

Nathalie Dupree

Ingredients

2 Cornish hens, spatchocked (see cook’s note)

Juice of 1 lemon (optional)

Butter

Salt to taste

Pepper to taste

Variations

Roast whole and carve after cooking.

Add chopped rosemary or herbs, curry powder, ground corriander or other spices.

Directions

Cook’s note: To spatchcock poultry, move it to a cutting board, breast side down. Split the hen by cutting down the backbone. Turn over and press down on the sternum with the heel of one hand until it snaps. Crack the hen on either side of the breastbone by pressing down until it will lie flat. The hen can be cut further at this point, down the breast, to make two pieces, or cut into four pieces by then cutting between the breast and the legs.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Lay hens side by side, without overlapping, on a baking sheet lined with foil. Pour over some of the lemon juice, if using. (This may be done ahead, and refrigerated, uncovered, which will give a crisper skin.) Dot with butter and season with salt and pepper.

Roast 45 minutes to 1 hour, until the juices run clear and registers 165 degrees on an instant-read thermometer. Remove from the pan. Pour over more lemon juice if desired. Cut up the breast bone to make two pieces. Cut again between breast and leg to make four pieces.

Nathalie Dupree is the author of 13 cookbooks, most recently “Mastering the Art of Southern Cooking.” She lives in Charleston and may be reached through Nathalie dupree.com.