When the weather turns ugly, I retreat to the kitchen with a recipe and a bottle of white wine. This is the time of year when I like to take my time in the kitchen and make an event of it. It’s true the winter can be isolating but it can also bring people together. Everyone moves inside. It’s too cold to shuffle from point A to point B, so everyone gets good and comfortable where ever they wind up. As a result of this limited mobility, you have the time to prepare a lengthy meal for all the people willing to brave a blizzard for you, i.e. your real friends. And since they’re your real friends, they deserve Cornish Hen Fricassee & Buttercup Gnocchi.
If you’re doing it right, this Cornish Hen Fricassee & Buttercup Gnocchi should take you all day and two bottles of wine (one for the hen and one for you) to make. If you’re somehow short on time you can, of course, divide the recipe over two days, but I don’t recommend it. Not for any logistical reason, it’s just more damn fun to spend the day in the kitchen cooking and drinking with someone you love.
The Holidays are the best time to acquire a new skill in the kitchen. Everyone is full of good cheer (boozy nog) and therefore happy to let you off the hook if something goes a rye. Plus, there’s always an ample supply of good cheese and crackers to fall back on – trust me, this has happened to me more times than I can count. Really, there’s no reason you shouldn’t try something new.
There are, of course, numerous culinary projects you could try your hand at, but might I gently suggest you give making gnocchi a try. Gnocchi is great because it’s universally loved, it freezes beautifully, and it doesn’t require any special equipment to pull off. You can commit to a gnocchi board if you’re after the proper aesthetics, but I think rustic gnocchi not only tastes as good as “fancy” gnocchi, it’s charming too, and no, I’m not just being polite. If you become gnocchi obsessed, then I’d say a gnocchi board would be a wise investment, but it’s certainly not necessary for your first gnocchi encounter.
Since ’tis the season of extreme feasting, I feel I should point out that this recipe can be easily doubled or tripled depending on how popular you happen to be. Really, you can just keep adding hens and bottles of wine until your dutch oven runneth over. And speaking of wine, I know some people think there’s no point in buying nice wine for cooking. Please don’t let yourself be one of them. I’m not saying you should buy a $40 bottle of wine, but buy something you would gladly drink on its own. Let me put it this way: If you wouldn’t drink it, why on earth would you put it in your food?
Slow down and enjoy the coziness of the season. Why brave the cold when you can hold up in the kitchen with good smells, good drink and good company? Make this Cornish Hen Fricassee & Buttercup Gnocchi with the ones you love this holiday season, because it’s winter and your cockles need warming.
- 2 Cornish hens
- 1 1/2 cups yellow pearl onions, peeled
- 1 1/2 cups button mushrooms, scrubbed
- 3 large carrots, peeled and coarsely chopped
- 3 stalks of celery, coarsely chopped
- 1 bottle of white wine (I used a Chablis)
- 4-5 sprigs of thyme
- 4-5 sprigs of tarragon
- 4 cups low sodium chicken broth
- 4 egg yolks
- 1/4 cup pancetta, diced
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch
- 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 2 medium Yukon Gold potatoes, scrubbed
- 1 Buttercup squash, quartered
- 1 1/2 - 2 cups all purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 cup fresh tarragon, finely chopped
- Preheat the oven to 400F.
- Cover a baking sheet in a sprinkling of kosher salt. Arrange the potatoes and squash quarters on the salt bed and place in the oven. Roast for 50-65 minutes or until the vegetables are tender.
- Leave the vegetables on the baking sheet and set aside until completely cooled.
- Once the vegetables have cooled, remove the skins and put them through a ricer. Stir the tarragon into the veg mixture.
- At this point weigh your veg. For every pound of squash/potato you will need 1 cup of flour. My veg weighed 1.5 lbs, so I added 1 1/2 cups of flour.
- Whisk the flour and salt together in a medium-sized mixing bowl.
- Work the flour/salt mixture into veg until a crumbly dough begins to form. Turn the dough onto a well-floured surface and knead it until it becomes uniform.
- Divide the dough into 8 parts. Roll each section to form a snake-like shape. Using a bench scraper, cut the rolls into 1-inch pieces.
- Roll the gnocchi in additional flour and lay them on a clean, well-floured tea towel until ready to use.
- When ready to use, cook gnocchi in a large pot of salted, boiling water for 3-4 minutes. You'll know the gnocchi is done when it floats to the surface.
- At this point, you can simple drain it and serve it, or you can saute the gnocchi in a frying pan liberally coated in olive oil until toasty.
- Remove the necks and giblets from the Cornish hens and set aside. Rinse the hens and pat dry.
- Using kitchen shears, remove the back bones from the hens. Cut the hens in half and salt them liberally on all sides.
- Place the hen halves in a large mixing bowl. Add the mushrooms, onions, carrots, and celery.
- Pour the wine over the hens and vegetables. Add a few grinds of fresh ground pepper, then cover and refrigerate for at least 3 hours or for up to 24 hours.
- Pour the chicken broth into a small saucepan. Add the hen giblets and back bones to the broth.
- Place the saucepan over high heat. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Let it simmer until the broth has reduced by half. Turn off the heat and allow the broth to cool.
- When the hens are finished marinating, remove them from the wine and pat them dry with a little paper towel.
- Heat a large dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the pancetta and cook until crisp. Remove the pancetta from the pot and place them on a plate lined with paper towel.
- Add the hens to the pot and brown them on all sides. Remove them and set aside.
- Using a large slotted spoon, extract the vegetables from the wine and add them to the pot. Add a sprinkle of salt. Sauté until the onions are just translucent. About 5 minutes.
- Nestle the hens into the vegetables and pour the wine marinade over top.
- Pour the chicken broth through a fine-mesh strainer. Discard the solids. Add the broth to the pot.
- Tie the thyme and the tarragon into a bundle using butcher's twine. Add it to the pot.
- Bring the hen mixture to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Leave it to cook for 25 minutes.
- Remove the hens from the pot. Separate the legs from the breasts and set aside.
- In a small mixing bowl, whisk together egg yolks, cornstarch and cream. Whisk in two ladles full of the hen cooking liquid to temper the eggs.
- Add the egg/cream mixture to the pot and stir to combine. The sauce should thicken enough to coat the back of a spoon.
- Stir in the mustard and place the hens back in the pot to heat through. No more than five minutes.
- Serve fricassee over a bed of buttercup gnocchi (plain or sautéed). Garnish with reserved pancetta, fresh thyme, and pomegranate arils if desired.