Weekend Recipe: Spatchcocked Game Hens with Basil Marinade

Weekends are the perfect time to try your hand at new cooking techniques -- a day off equals time to experiment -- and this poultry technique does require some focus and finesse, and a long marinade will enhance the flavors."Spatchcocking" is essentially butterflying a bird, or removing its backbone for more even cooking; if you don't feel up to the task, a good butcher like McCall's will be able to break it down for you. To follow this recipe by KCET chef Steven Raichlen to the letter, you'll want four bricks, wrapped carefully in aluminum foil, to lay on the birds while they're cooking.

Spatchcocked Game Hens Cooked Under a Brick, with Basil Marinade
Serves 2-4
For the marinade:

1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
1/3 cup water
3 cloves garlic, peeled
1 large bunch fresh basil, stemmed
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

4 game hens (1 to 1-1/4 pound each)

Fresh basil sprigs
Lemon wedges
Cherry tomatoes

Combine the oil, lemon juice, water, garlic, basil, salt and pepper in a blender and process to a smooth paste. Refrigerate if not using immediately; it's best the day it is made.

For each hen, remove the packet of giblets (if any) from the body cavity and set aside for another use. Remove and discard any excess fat just inside the body cavity of the game hen; rinse the bird, inside and out, under cold running water, then drain and blot dry, inside and out, with paper towels. Place the bird, breast side down, on a cutting board.
Using poultry shears or a sharp knife, cut through the flesh and bone along both sides of the backbone. Cut from the tail end to the head end and completely remove the backbone.

Open out the bird (like opening a book) by gently pulling the halves apart. Using a sharp paring life, lightly score the top of the breastbone. Run your thumbs along and under the sides of the breastbone and attached cartilage and pop them out. Spread the bird out flat.

Turn the bird over. Using a sharp knife, make a slit in the skin between the lower end of the breastbone and the leg, on each side, approximately 1/2 inch long. Stick the end of the drumstick on that side through the slit.

Put the spatchcocked hens into a nonreactive baking dish and pour the marinade over them, turning to coat completely. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or overnight.

Set up the grill for direct grilling and preheat to medium. When ready to cook, brush and oil the grill grate. Arrange the game hens on the hot grate, all facing the same direction, at a 45 degree angle to the bars of the grate. Place a brick on top of each. Grill for 8 to 12 minutes per side; replace the bricks after turning. The hens are done when an instant-read meat thermometer inserted into the thickest part of a thigh (but not reaching the bone) registers about 170 degrees F.

Transfer the hens to a platter; let rest for 3 minutes before serving. Garnish with sprigs of fresh basil, lemon wedges, and cherry tomatoes. Want a side dish with this? Try Roasted Red Pepper Salad with Capers, Anchovies and Olives!

Click here to see show times for "Primal Grill with Steven Raichlen"

[Photo by Flickr user mccun934]



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About the Author

Katherine's role as the Living editor at KCET.org keeps her running from farms to markets to restaurants to pop-up swaps all over SoCal. She's been living in and writing about this area for over a decade.
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