Okay, I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned somewhere on this blog that I am no fan of turkey. I mean, I get that it’s large, grand and it feeds a crowd. But, my gosh, you have to do so much to it to make it edible. You’ve gotta brine it, stuff butter under its skin and baste the crap out of it. And, as I mentioned, turkeys are large. That means they are difficult to maneuver into and out of the brine to the oven an onwards to the table. And if you aren’t feeding a small army, you will be eating leftovers for the rest of time. So, with my anti-turkey stance firmly established, I would like to throw my weight behind these Pomegranate Lacquered Cornish Hens with Jeweled Saffron Rice. If you have a small family who’s interested in moist, flavorful poultry meat, these hens have got your back.
Things are starting to look Christmassy around these parts and depending on who you are, that is either a very good thing or a very bad thing. Now, from where I’m standing it’s a very good thing. We got snow yesterday and to my way of thinking, snow is only appropriate and welcome during the holly jolly season. But I do understand where the less enthusiastic are coming from. It is a touch early and, yes, this is a debate we have in this country every year.
But whether you think it’s too early for the fa-la-la-las or not, it’s never too early to start menu planning. Now, this year my holiday is a little unique. I will not be heading to Nova Scotia for the holidays, I am staying put. I need a year off of holiday travel and, frankly, I’m just zonked. So, this very different set of holidays have a few drawbacks as well as a few perks. I’m going to focus on the perks because I think the drawbacks are fairly obvious. The number one perk is the small, intimate holiday dinners.
As much as I love to entertain and feast with the best of them, I do find large dinner parties daunting and, more often than not, slightly disappointing. And no, it’s not because I’m an anti-social monster. I mean, I am slightly anti-social but I try not to think of myself as a monster. No, the real reason I shy from large parties is I find it hard to connect with the people around the table. With so many seats occupied, the conversation is fragmented. You only really talk to the person next to you. It’s kind of a waste of good company.
When it’s you and a few others gathered around the table, it’s a discussion. It’s cheaper to keep everyone in booze and food. And the menus can be a little more refined and less buffet-style. You don’t need a vat of mashed potatoes, you can have Jeweled Saffron Rice. And you don’t need a turkey large enough to fight a bear, you can have a couple of Pomegranate Lacquered Cornish Hens instead. Not a bad alternative Thanksgiving/holiday dinner, no? And it would only be possible if you weren’t going in for a big family blow-out.
To be honest, “alternative” is a crap word. It vaguely means very little. So, let’s call these Pomegranate Lacquered Cornish Hens a rebel’s holiday dinner. Yeah, that is way sexier and almost more truthful. Who else but a rebel would opt for a round of tiny birds for a tiny crowd at a tiny holiday dinner? Hey, this is my blog, I can glorify my life choices all I want.
I find the assumption that the whole world is feeding 50 every holiday season to be particularly alienating. Yes, that was my experience growing up, but that wasn’t how many of my friends and bf grew up. Every holiday menu you find on the Internets seems to be designed for a minimum of 12. But what if you just moved somewhere new or your family is on the smaller size? Are you just not allowed to participate, or do you have to eat leftovers from here to New Year’s?
This is partially why I devised these Pomegranate Lacquered Cornish Hens. Well, that and my hatred of turkey. Not only are these hens easy to make, but you can feed anywhere from a family of two (and yes, that is a family) to a family of eight and beyond. All you have to remember is one hen can feed roughly two people. So, just add a hen for every couple and then add a spare, you know, for good luck. So, say you were feeding eight people, you would need five hens. Are you picking up what I’m laying down?
Now, I’m sure you noticed that this menu is Middle Eastern-inspired. And the emphasis should certainly be on the word “inspired”. These are not authentic. I did borrow heavily from several recipes for Iranian Jeweled Rice but I did not use the traditional barberries and I chickened out on making my own tahdig. I am still very much a novice when it comes to Middle Eastern cuisine, so don’t mistake me for an expert. But ever since my pals served me a seriously legit Baghali Polo, I’ve become obsessed with the food culture of Iran. So, the flavors are starting to seep into the meals I make and, honestly, the results have been pretty delicious.
So, that’s all you need to know about these Pomegranate Lacquered Cornish Hens with Jeweled Saffron Rice. Whip them up this Thanksgiving or Christmas and revel in your rebel-status.
Pomegranate Lacquered Cornish Hens with Jeweled Saffron Rice
Pomegranate Lacquered Cornish Hens
- 2 cornish hens
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1/4 cup pomegranate molasses
- 1 tablespoon fresh ground pepper
Jeweled Saffron Rice
- 1 1/2 cups rice
- 2 tablespoons salt divided
- 4-5 strands of saffron
- 1/8 cup boiling water
- 2 tablespoons neutral oil
- 1 orange
- 4 small carrots peeled and grated
- 1/4 cup dried apricots coarsely chopped
- 1/4 cup unsalted almonds coarsely chopped
- 1/4 cup pistachios coarsely chopped
- 1/2 cup pomegranate arils
- 2 tablespoons fresh dill finely chopped
For the Hens
- Pat the hens dry with paper towel and set them on a cooling rack set inside a large baking sheet. Liberally salt all sides and inside the cavity of each hen. Transfer the hens to the fridge and let cure for 24 hours. This process seasons hens and draws the moisture from the skin so it will crisp up when it hits the heat.
- Preheat the oven to 425°F.
- Whisk the olive oil, pomegranate molasses and pepper together in a small bowl. Using a pastry brush, brush all sides of the hens.
- Place the hens on an oiled baking sheet and transfer to the oven. Bake for 10 minutes, then lower the heat to 375°F. Bake for another 15 minutes, then remove from the oven and brush with additional pomegranate molasses. Return the hens to the oven and bake for another 15 minutes or until the internal temperature reaches 165°F and the juices run clear. Brush the hens once more with pomegranate molasses and tent with foil. Let sit for 10 minutes before carving.
For the Rice
- Place the rice in a large bowl and cover with cold water. Add 1 teaspoon of the salt and let sit for 2 hours. Drain and rinse the rice and set aside.
- Place the saffron in a small bowl and pour the boiling water over top. Let steep for at least 30 minutes.
- Fill a medium-sized pot with water and bring to a boil. Add the remaining salt (I know it seems like a lot but trust me) and the rice and cook for 6-10 minutes or until the rice is al dente. Drain and rinse the rice and set aside. Rinse the pot and return it to the heat.
- Add the oil to the pot and heat until shimmering. Lower the heat and add the rice. Poke holes in the surface of the rice using the back of a spoon. Place the small bowl of saffron-infused water on top of the rice. Just nestle it in there, don't pour it in. Wrap a kitchen towel around the base of the lid of the pot and place it on top. The towel will trap the steam. Make sure the towel isn't touching any part of the cooking element. Let the rice steam for 20 minutes.
- While the rice is steaming, remove the zest from half of the orange using a vegetable peeler. Place a small pot of water over high heat and bring to a boil. Add the orange peel and boil for 1 minute. Using a slotted spoon remove the peel from the water and transfer to a cutting board to cool slightly. Cut the peel into thin matchsticks and set aside.
- Pour a quarter-sized amount of oil in a large skillet. Heat until shimmering, then add the orange peel, carrots, apricots, almonds and pistachios. Sauté until slightly softened. Remove from the heat and set aside.
- Remove the bowl of saffron-infused water from the rice. Strain the water into a bowl and add about a 1/2 cup of the steamed rice. Using a fork, toss the rice until it turns a bright yellow. Add the rice back into the large pot of rice along with the apricot mixture, fresh dill and half of the pomegranate arils. Toss to incorporate and transfer to a large platter.
- Garnish the rice with the remaining pomegranate arils and additional fresh dill. Serve immediately.