And just like that, we’re on the doorstep of Canadian Thanksgiving. This holiday always sneaks up on me. One day I’m sipping rose on a patio and seemingly overnight I’m on the hunt for Brussels sprouts. But this year, Thanksgiving really took me by surprise. COVID has been messing with my sense of time all year, why would October be any different? I wish I could say this year’s Thanksgiving will be a holiday as usual. But it won’t. Our case counts are on the rise and we’re being told to limit our dining plans to our own households. No one will be traveling and there will be far fewer mouths to feed turkey to. Consequently, people are on the lookout for smaller festive meal ideas, so I’m happy to add to the din with this Spatchcock Cornish Hen Tray Bake.
Throughout the pandemic, I have been largely unessential. An awkward bedside manner and no formal medical training will do that to a person. But the need for small scale celebrations? Well, there’s a demand I can fill. I am very seasoned at throwing micro-parties. And I fully embrace and encourage applying every piece of pomp and circumstance possible to even the tiniest gathering.
If you for some reason doubt my credentials, let me lay them out for you. I live with my wonderful partner and our two cats. That means most nights, especially in COVID times, I only have to feed two humans. It may sound like a walk in a park but managing leftovers can be a trick. My partner comes from a small family that doesn’t get together all that frequently. And the majority of my family lives and subsequently parties in Nova Scotia. So we have set more than a few holiday tables for two.
In our time hosting ourselves, my partner and I have learned our fair share of lessons. First off, poultry comes in many sizes, you don’t need a turkey on your table to call it Thanksgiving. I think this Spatchcock Cornish Hen Tray Bake proves that, but if it doesn’t, this second lesson is for you. A turkey is a big bird and it has big parts…no, not THOSE parts. I mean, it has breasts that can feed two comfortably and drumsticks that will make your hands look small. You don’t have to buy an intact turkey, you can buy parts of the turkey.
Okay, let’s say you didn’t heed any of the stellar advice above and soldiered on with a beast of a bird. You’re about to encounter the same scenario that led us to our third lesson – no matter how good your Thanksgiving dinner is, you will get sick of it. I don’t care how much you love dark meat, mashed, potatoes, and gravy – the eating experience will get old long before you manage to eat the leftovers. Don’t kid yourself.
And finally, the fourth lesson – there is more to life than turkey tetrazzini. I know the rebuttal to the previous lesson was some sort of argument for the versatility of leftover turkey. And, you know, that is a fair point. Leftover poultry of any kind has many possible uses. But for some reason, everyone seems to make the same thing – turkey tetrazzini.
Seriously, if you look at any recipe round-up pertaining to leftover turkey, some form of tetrazzini is on there. There is so much more you can do with leftover turkey and if you bought a full turkey for four, you’re going to have to find many different ways to repurpose that bird. No one wants four trays of tetrazzini in their life, so just say no. Now, I don’t mean to leave you hanging. I will give you an alternative to that tetrazzini lyfe in a few days. But for now, let’s talk about this Spatchcock Cornish Hen Tray Bake.
The idea behind this recipe was to have all the components of a great Thanksgiving feast in sensible quantities cooking together in a fraction of the time. Listen, I’m no great proponent of sheet pan dinners. In fact, their popularity perplexes me. Sure, I can see the appeal of popping an entire dinner into the oven in one pan and one fallow swoop. But my major complaint with sheet pan dinners is they often combine ingredients that cook at drastically different times and temperatures. You may have to sacrifice a relatively delicate vegetable to ensure a chicken thigh is cooked all the way through.
But this is not the case with this Spatchcock Cornish Hen Tray Bake. A spatchcock Cornish hen takes a mere 30 minutes to cook all the way through. And the veg and fruit I selected can either withstand 30 minutes of high heat with no adverse effects or they benefit from it. So the Brussels sprouts have time to blister while the squash turns to butter and the cranberries turn jammy. Add a kiss of brown sugar and Dijon mustard married with a splash of dark soy sauce and you have a holiday tray-bake unlike any other.
So that’s everything you need to know about this Spatchcock Cornish Hen Tray Bake. It has all the classic components of a traditional holiday feast albeit on a smaller scale. Just add a wee batch of mashed potatoes and you’ve got Thanksgiving!
Spatchcock Cornish Hen Tray Bake
- 12×17" baking sheet
- 2 Cornish hens neck and giblets removed, patted dry
- 2 tbsp olive oil divided
- 2 tbsp granulated sugar
- 1 cup fresh cranberries
- 200g (7 oz) Brussels sprouts halved
- ½ red kuri squash cut into wedges
- 3 shallots halved and cut into wedges
- 1 cup pecan halves
- ¼ cup unsalted butter
- 2 tbsp brown sugar
- 1 tbsp dark soy sauce
- 1 tbsp Dijon mustard
- Fresh sage leaves to garnish
- Preheat the oven to 400°F.
- Using kitchen shears, remove the backbone from each hen. Place them breast-side-up on a cutting board and press the center of the breast with the heel of your hand until you hear a pop and the hen lies flat.2 Cornish hens
- Brush 1 tablespoon of the olive oil evenly over the baking sheet. Season both sides of each hen generously with salt and place them on the baking sheet.2 Cornish hens, 2 tbsp olive oil
- Place the sugar in a large bowl and add the recently washed but no dried cranberries. Toss to coat. Set them aside.2 tbsp granulated sugar, 1 cup fresh cranberries
- Once the hens are positioned, arrange the veg around the hens, taking care to place the Brussel sprouts cut-side-down. Try not to crowd the veg or the hens and be ready with an additional baking sheet if you run out of space. Finally, add the cranberries to the pan.200g (7 oz) Brussels sprouts, ½ red kuri squash, 3 shallots
- Drizzle the hens and the veg with the remaining olive oil and finish with a generous sprinkling of salt. Place the baking sheet in the oven and roast for 20 minutes.2 tbsp olive oil
- While the veg and the hens are roasting, place the butter, pecans, brown sugar, and soy sauce in a small saucepan. Place the pan over medium heat and stir until the butter melts and the mixture comes to a boil. Take the saucepan off of the heat and stir in the Dijon mustard.1 cup pecan halves, ¼ cup unsalted butter, 2 tbsp brown sugar, 1 tbsp dark soy sauce, 1 tbsp Dijon mustard
- Once 20 minutes have passed, take the baking sheet out of the oven and spoon the brown sugar and butter mixture over the hens and the veg until evenly coated. Take extra care to brush the glaze all over the hens. Scatter the pecans evenly across the baking sheet and return to the oven. Roast for an additional 15 minutes or until the hens are golden and the juices run clear.
- Tent the tray in foil and let rest for 10 minutes. Transfer the veg to a platter and quarter the hens. Arrange the hen pieces on top of the veg and garnish with sage leaves. Serve immediately.Fresh sage leaves