My family has always insisted that the centerpiece of our Christmas feast be some kind of show-stopping roast. We’re talking a standing rib roast or whole beef tenderloin. And we tend to pair them with an extravagant sauce, usually béarnaise. Hey, it’s Christmas.
My challenge was to come up with a Christmas dinner showstopper just as glamorous as the usual stars, but somehow leaner. Cornish game hens fit the bill.
They were created in the 1950s by a French couple in Connecticut who wanted something that didn’t exist at the time – a succulent bird suitable for a single serving. They realized their dream by crossing a Cornish game chicken with a White Rock (or Plymouth) chicken.
Despite the name, there is nothing gamy about this bird. It tastes like what it is – moist and delicious chicken that is sized just right to serve one.
To make sure the white meat stays moist, I season the birds with salt. Then I stuffed some of everyone’s favorite poultry herbs – thyme and sage – under the skin.
The sauce is based on an ingredient I wish I always had on hand – brown poultry stock. It’s a happy cross between a chicken stock and a beef stock, with much deeper flavor than the former, but taking less time to make than the latter.
I base it on wings, which have the ideal ratio of bone (which provides gelatin) to meat and skin (both of which provide flavor). The wings get browned first, as do the vegetables, which is the key to deep flavor. I then simmer the ingredients for several hours, strain the stock, and boil.
How to make the sauce creamy without cream? By reaching for evaporated skim milk. Add a little Dijon mustard and you’ve masked any skim milk taste. I tested the recipe on the family, and as far as they were concerned, it was a full-fat, full-flavor French mustard sauce.
Sara Moulton is the host of public television’s Sara’s Weeknight Meals and author, most recently, of Sara Moulton’s Everyday Family Dinners.