Was it the beautiful, golden roasted Cornish Game Hens or the thought of a succulent orange sauce that drew you in? I’d be willing to bet you saw Fennel in the title and cringed, willing to give this recipe the once over, all the while thinking “maybe there’s a way around the Fennel.”
You’ve heard the stories – Fennel tastes like licorice. And you, my dear reader, are NOT a fan of licorice. On the whole, what we eat in a restaurant is basically the same combination of ingredients that we cook with at home There is, however, a short list of ingredients that are commonly used in commercial kitchens that are underused by home cooks. Fennel is probably at the top of the list, often pushed aside by home cooks. While there is no denying its sweet licorice aroma, unlike anise, the flavor of Fennel is subtle and light. Don’t let your dislike of licorice turn you away from Fennel completely. This wonderful vegetable does not need to be the star of the show. As a background flavor, especially in dishes that contain citrus, Fennel becomes that flavor most people like but cannot describe. So go ahead, try a little. I promise, you will be amazed.
Oh, the aromas wafting from my kitchen as this beautiful dish roasted was amazing. Potatoes roasting – I love the smell of potatoes roasting. The hint of Fennel and all that butter oozing from every crevice of the game hens – heave! Just imagine the pan drippings, taking on a subtle kiss from the vegetables, and enriched with all that buttery-white wine goodness. While no cream is used in the sauce, the sauce is none the less creamy. Oh, and the orange segments at the end – divine!
Roasted Cornish Hens with Fennel and Rosemary in an Orange Sauce
2 Cornish game hens, thawed and patted dry
10 baby potatoes, quartered
1 bulb fennel, cored and cut into thin wedges
4 plum tomatoes, halved
6 cloves garlic, peeled
2/3 stick butter, divided and softened
2 sprigs rosemary, leaves chopped
1 orange, zested and segmented
1 cup white wine
2 cups chicken stock, divided
Heat oven to 425 degrees.
In the bottom of a large roasting pan, scatter the potatoes, then top with the fennel wedges.
Arrange the tomatoes cut side up on the edges of the roasting pan.
Sprinkle the vegetables liberally with salt. Scatter the chopped rosemary, garlic cloves, and orange zest over the vegetables. Set pan aside
Divide the butter, reserving 2 tablespoons for the sauce. With the remaining butter, about half a stick, smear all over the game hens, working butter into any crevices and under the skin with your fingers. (By lifting the skin up gently and placing butter beneath, this creates an air pocket to aid in the crispness process).
Sprinkle the hens liberally with salt, then place them breast side up over the veggies. Tuck the wings and legs under the hen bodies.
Pour the wine and 1/2 cup of stock into the bottom of the pan. Roast the vegetables and hens for 20 minutes, uncovered. After 20 minutes, remove the pan from the oven (close the oven door to maintain temperature) and check the liquids. If the wine/stock mixture has evaporated, add up to 1 more cup of stock if necessary.
Cover the roasting pan, and roast for 20 – 30 more minutes until the veggies are tender and the hens are nearly cooked through – 155 degrees internal temperature, if using a meat thermometer. (You want the legs to pass the “wiggle” test).
Remove roasting pan cover, and let hens roast for 10-15 minutes longer until the skin is crispy and the birds are cooked through.
Remove pan from the oven, and reserve about 1/2 cup pan drippings. Replace pan lid and allow to hens to rest while you make the orange sauce.
Note: I wanted to add some asparagus to the overall presentation. This was super easy – and completely optional.
1 bunch asparagus tips, trimmed
3 Tablespoons water
1/4 teaspoon salt
Trim asparagus by snapping off woody ends. Place tips in a micro-wave proof dish. Add water, sprinkle with salt. Zap in microwave about 2-3 minutes or until tender-crisp.
Shake off excess water. Divide into 3 bunches. Lay one bunch each at the far ends of the roasting pan with the resting birds, the third bunch in the middle. Keep asparagus warm in the roasting pan while the sauce is made. Serve as part of the vegetables, ladle with orange sauce.
2 Tablespoons Butter (reserved)
1 Tablespoon Flour
1/2 Cup Pan Drippings
1/4 Cup Orange Juice
1/2 Cup Chicken Stock
In a small saucepan, heat the remaining butter until foamy. Add the flour, and whisk to form a light roux.
Pour in the reserved pan juices, whisking to combine. Add orange juice and chicken stock. Let the sauce bubble and thicken for 1 minute, then add the orange segments, just to warm through.
Carve game hens, and plate with the vegetables. Liberally ladled sauce over everything. Be sure to include some of the orange segments – so delicious!