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One Hip Hen

While delicious, the Cornish Hen’s reputation has gotten a bit stodgy. Its small size makes the birds supposedly perfect for a single serving, but it’s more than we’d personally eat if accompanied by side dishes. What makes this recipe hip is not only does it involve preparing the cornish hen as I’ve never done before, it involved my first experience with sumac. The verdict? Wonderful. Moist and flavorful, this will likely be my go to grilled poultry recipe. The recipe as originally written was for 5 hens, but I’ve reduced it down to work for 2. This recipe does involve brining the birds, so you’ll need to plan to start this 6 to 24 hours before grilling.

Grilled Cornish Game Hen with Lemon and Sumac (Adapted from Bon Appetit 8/08)

  • 4 1/2 cups water
  • 1/2 cup fresh lemon juice, divided in half
  • 1/4 cup kosher salt
  • 2 Cornish Hens split with backbone removed 
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon ground sumac
  • 2 garlic gloves, minced
  • 4 thin slices of lemon 

Make Brine: In a large bowl, combine salt, water and 1/4 cup of lemon juice. Stir until combined. Place hens in container so they snugly fit or in a ziploc bag. Pour the brine over the hens and place in refrigerator for 6 to 24 hours. (I let mine soak for 8 hours.)

Prepare your grill for medium-high heat.

In small bowl, combine olive oil, garlic, remaining lemon juice, and sumac. Stir. (The recipe states to let this sit for about 15 minutes so it thickens, which I did, but I do not know that it is really necessary.)

Remove birds from refrigerator and pat dry. Loosen the skin on the hens at the breast and season meat with pepper. Pour mixture over hens and massage into the meat, making sure to get the mixture under the skin. Place a slice of lemon under the breast skin.

Start the hens skin side up. Cover and grill for about 8 minutes. Flip them and continue cooking over an open grill for another 6 minutes or so. Continue grilling while occasionally flipping pieces for about another 10 minutes, or until meat is cooked through.

I found my sumac at Williams Sonoma.  I think you’ll find it is worth the small investment ($6-ish).  I was skeptical when purchasing it that I may not get much use out of it, but I do plan to use this trifecta of lemon, garlic, and sumac as a grilled poultry staple.  I am looking forward to trying this with regular chicken!

(The original recipe has this being served with a date relish, but I didn’t have all the ingredients required to make it as directed.  I am sure it would be delicious with it, but I don’t think a relish is really a necessity.)


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