By Gail Gordon Oliver Everyone who knows me is aware of my fondness for cooking dishes that combine sweet, savoury, and tart elements. I love playing with these flavours, which create great depth in the finished product. While recently leafing through Iranian-born Najmieh Batmanglij's cookbook New Food of Life: Ancient Persian and Modern Iranian Cooking and Ceremonies, I came across two stuffed poultry recipes that sounded delicious. I was inspired to develop a dish that incorporates elements of both. This recipe would be a great addition to a holiday table. You can double (or triple it), if desired. Allow one-half of a Cornish hen per person. The same stuffing can also be used in chicken, turkey or duck. Caution: Stuffing poultry or other meats or fish with cooled or chilled stuffing is no longer advisable. Stuffing should be prepared just prior to use, and inserted into the bird while still hot, in order to avoid bacterial contamination. Makes 4 servings 1/4 tsp crumbled saffron threads (optional)
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
1/3 cup basmati rice, rinsed and drained
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cardamom
1/4 tsp ground coriander
2/3 cup chicken broth
2 tbsp freshly squeezed lime juice
1 tbsp liquid honey or pure maple syrup
1/3 cup chopped pitted prunes
3 tbsp finely chopped dried apricots
2 tbsp dried currants or raisins
2 tbsp slivered almonds, toasted (optional)
3 large carrots, cut in 2-inch lengths
1 large onion, halved and sliced
2 Cornish hens (about 1 1/2 to 2 pounds each)
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup chicken broth
1/4 cup orange juice In a small bowl, stir together the saffron (if using) with 2 tablespoons of boiling water; set aside. In a small saucepan, heat the 2 tablespoons of oil over medium heat. Add the chopped onion and cook, stirring occasionally until golden, 6 to 7 minutes. Add the rice, garlic, one teaspoon of the salt, 1/4 teaspoon of the pepper, cinnamon, cardamom and coriander and cook, stirring, until the rice becomes translucent, one to 2 minutes. Stir in the 2/3-cup of broth and the prepared saffron tea. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low, cover the pot and cook until the liquid is absorbed, 18 to 20 minutes. Let the rice stand for 5 minutes. Fluff the rice with a fork and stir in the lime juice, honey, prunes, apricots, currants and almonds (if using). Cook, stirring, for one minute. In the meantime, lightly grease an ovenproof dish or shallow roasting pan. Scatter the carrots and sliced onion over the bottom. Sprinkle the remaining 1/2-teaspoon of salt and 1/4-teaspoon of pepper evenly over the Cornish hens; set the hens on top of the vegetables in the pan, breast side up. Using a soup spoon, immediately place the hot stuffing evenly into the cavities of the hens. Brush the hens with the tablespoon of oil. Cover the dish with a sheet of parchment paper topped with a sheet of aluminum foil. Bake in a 350º F oven for 30 minutes. In a small bowl, combine the 1/4-cup of chicken broth and the orange juice. Brush the hens with this mixture and add the remainder to the baking dish. Increase the temperature to 375º F. Bake the hens uncovered for 30 minutes. Brush the hens with the pan juices. Cook until the hens are browned and crisp, the meat is no longer pink inside, and the internal temperature of the stuffing has reached 165º F, about 15 minutes. Let stand for about 10 minutes. Cut the hens in half through the breastbone, preferably at tableside. Serve with the pan juices and roasting vegetables.