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Citrus IPA Brined Cornish Game Hens with Ancho Cherry Wine Sauce

December 2018
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For the Citrus IPA Brine:

2½ cups citrus IPA beer, such as Palmetto Brewing Co.’s Huger St. IPA
2 cups water
1/4 cup kosher salt
3 Tbs. dark brown sugar
1/4 cup dark molasses
1½ cups ice
4 Cornish game hens, about 1¼ lbs. each, rinsed under cool water and patted dry
1/3 cup olive oil
Sea salt
Black pepper
Granulated garlic
Granulated onion
4 Tbs. minced fresh thyme leaves
12 garlic cloves  
1 lemon, quartered
1/2 orange, quartered
(Butcher’s twine)
1 cup low-sodium chicken broth
3 Tbs. unsalted butter

For the Ancho Cherry Wine Sauce:

1 Tbs. unsalted butter
1/3 cup minced shallots
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 lb. frozen tart cherries
2 slices applewood smoked bacon, cooked and chopped
2 cups red wine, any type
1 cup low-sodium chicken broth
1/4 cup Bluebird Vinaigrette
2 Tbs. local honey
1 Tbs. fresh orange juice
1 tsp. cardamom
1 tsp. Ancho chili powder
1½ tsp. adobo sauce
1 Tbs. fresh thyme leaves
1 Tbs. Grand Marnier


Combine the beer, water, salt, sugar, and molasses in a large bowl and stir until the sugar and salt are dissolved. Stir in the ice. Place each of the hens in a large Ziplock-type bag, divide the brine among them, and close. Refrigerate overnight or up to 12 hours, turning occasionally.

Preheat the oven to 325°F.

Remove the hens from the bags and rinse under cold water until the water runs clear. Pat dry and place in a baking pan or cast-iron skillet. Gently slide your fingers under their skin to release it. Gently pull back the skin and rub the olive oil underneath, then on the outer skin. Season under the skin with the salt, pepper, granulated garlic and onion, and thyme. Insert the garlic cloves, lemon and orange into the cavities. (Option: tie the legs and wings with butcher’s twine.) Pour the chicken broth over the hens and cover with foil. Bake for one hour, basting occasionally.

Remove the hens from the oven and increase the oven temperature to 400°F.  Remove the foil and coat the outside skin with the three tablespoons of butter. Return to the oven uncovered and bake for 20 to 25 minutes. The hens are done when an instant-read thermometer reads 165°F. Remove from the oven, baste, and let stand for 10 minutes before serving.

For the Ancho Cherry Wine Sauce:

Heat the butter in a cast-iron skillet or a large heavy-bottom saucepan over medium heat. Add the shallots and garlic and sauté until soft, about three minutes. Add the cherries, bacon, wine, broth, Bluebird vinaigrette, honey, orange juice, cardamom, Ancho chili powder, and adobo sauce. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the liquid is reduced by half, about five minutes. Using a wooden spoon, push down on the cherries to break up and release their juices. Reduce the heat to the lowest setting and simmer until the mixture thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon, 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the thyme and Grand Marnier.

Cooled and covered, the cherry sauce can be kept in the refrigerator for up to 10 days. Leftover Cornish game hen meat is excellent when combined with the cherry sauce and Brie cheese in a quesadilla. The flavorful, tender meat is also delicious in soups or pasta and rice dishes.