Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Chef Paul Sussman's Cornish Game Hens

CQ writes:  One of my fondest memories of working at The Fireplace ages ago here in Brookline is of Chef Paul Sussman's family meals.  He would often ask us what we would like to eat for supper the next day, and usually he would happily honor our request!  Tomato soup with grilled cheese was a staff favorite, and we always had a full balanced meal with protein, starch, and vegetable.  We were spoiled to say the least.  When I meet up with old Fireplace cohorts, we often reminisce about how great Paul's family meals were.  If you've ever worked at a restaurant, you'll know what a big deal this is!

One day, I jokingly said that I would like to have Cornish hens, and I was floored when I showed up and he served us the following recipe.  To this day, it remains on of the best meals I've ever eaten.  I think I went back for seconds, thirds, and... On top of being a great cook, Paul is genuinely a nice guy.  He is a fascinating conversationalist, and one of the only people I know who can finish the New York Times crossword puzzles on a regular basis.

He has been kind enough to contribute his beautiful recipe here.  I hope you enjoy it.  I know I'll be giving it a whirl for my next dinner party.

Chef Paul writes:

I am contributing one of my favorite recipes – at Daddy-O’s we called it Szechwan-style Roasted Game Hen with Yellow Noodles even though it really bears little resemblance to anything Szechwanese. It has Chinese and Thai flavor elements, but that’s about it. It is, however, a very nice dish. The lovely thing about it is how the fat and juices from the chickens seep through the noodles as they roast, making the noodles crunchy and crispy at the bottom where they hit the pan, and soft and unctuous right under the birds. Add to this the Thai cucumber salad, with it’s acidity and heat from the chilies to cut the richness of the hen and noodles, and you’re really eating good.

It’s important to find fresh, not frozen, hens. I had thought the Cornish game hens, which are just a chicken cross-bred from Cornish chickens to be small with mostly white meat and then slaughtered when still very young, were dry tasteless until I had a fresh one. You can, of course, use a poussin or a half of a regular chicken if fresh game hens are unavailable. A hot oven is important so that the sheet pan heats up enough to crisp the noodles.

Szechuan-style Roasted Game Hen over yellow noodles (serves 4)
4 fresh hens, about a pound each
1 cup chili oil (recipe below)
4 tablespoon 10 spice (recipe below) (or use store-bought 5 spice and add some Szechwan peppercorn if you are too lazy or time-constrained)
1 pound Chinese yellow noodles (the thicker kind)
1 tablespoon minced garlic
¼ cup canola oil
¼ cup fish sauce
cucumber salad (recipe below)
  1. Cut the backbone out of the hens, place skin side up on the on the cutting board and press down with the heal of your hand to break the breast bone and flatten the bird. Brush both sides of the birds liberally with chili oil and the dust generously with the 10 spice powder. (This is best done several hours before, or even the day before roasting to give the flavors time to penetrate)
  2. Bring a large pot of water to a boil, plunge the noodles in and cook for one minute, then immediately drain and shock the noodles with cold water and then place in a large bowl. In a sauté pan heat the canola oil over a low flame, add the garlic and sauté briefly. Take off the flame, add the fish sauce then pour over the noodles and mix well.
  3. Make four piles of noodles on a lightly oiled sheet pan (no parchment – you need the noodles to be in contact with the hot metal) and top each with a hen. Tuck the wing tips under the first wing bones, lightly salt and then place in a 450 degree oven. Roast until done – about 30 minutes.
  4. With a spatula scoop under the noodle piles and transfer each hen with it’s noodles to a plate. Serve with the cucumber salad.
Chili oil
1/2 cup dried red chili flakes
1/4 cup Chinese fermented black beans, coarsely chopped
4 large cloves garlic, lightly smashed and peeled
2 tsp Szechwan Peppercorns,
3 Scallions, sliced
10 Ginger quarter-size slices
3 cups canola oil
1/2 cup sesame oil

Combine all ingredients except for the sesame oil in a heavy, non aluminum saucepan. Over moderately low heat, bring the mixture to a bare simmer, stirring occasionally. Continue to barely simmer for 15 minutes. Cool and strain then add the sesame oil.

10 spice powder (from Barbara Tropp)
2 tablespoon Fennel seeds
10 Star anise; broken into points
2 tablespoon Szechwan peppercorns
1 tablespoon Coriander seeds
3/4 tsp Whole cloves
3/4 tsp Cumin seeds
1 1/2 tsp Black peppercorns
1/2 tsp Cinnamon; ground
1/4 tsp Ginger; ground
1/2 ts Tumeric

Toast the whole spices together in a small dry skillet over low heat, stirring and adjusting the heat so that the spices toast without burning. Stir until the spices are fully fragrant and the fennel seeds and lighter colored spices are lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Stir in the ground spices. Using a spice grinder or a clean coffee grinder, grind the mixture finely.

Makes 3/4 cup.

Cucumber salad
2 tablespoon fish sauce
3 tablespoon lime juice
2 tablespoon rice vinegar
¼ cup sliced chilies (I like red Fresno, but use jalapeno, serrano or Thai as you prefer)
2 scallions, sliced thin
2 English cucumbers, sliced thin

mix all ingredients and chill


  1. This sounds really good, but I must ask: can you do this with a spatchcocked game hen? We've had them a few times in the house, normally after the husband's had a bad day and the only thing that makes him feel better is mostly-breaking-down a hen, so I'm always looking for new applications to try with that bird.

  2. i don't see why not. you would probably have to change the cook time depending on how big the birds are though. good luck with this recipe!

  3. Sounds AMAZING! I may have to try this out. I love cornish game hens...