The Confident Cook: Grilled butterflied Cornish hens on sauteed greens – The Boston Globe

This new column offers home cooks some tips, tricks, and skills in the kitchen. If you head to the stove with confidence, you’re way ahead of the game. Sometimes it’s a matter of knowing how to cut up a vegetable, or when to salt the dish. To see last week’s recipe for New England summer minestrone, go to

Cornish hens, which are actually a breed of small chickens, make ideal single servings. Each person has an entire hen on the plate and everyone gets to eat the little birds with their fingers. The meat is juicy, but it needs gentle treatment, either in the oven, or on the grill, to keep from drying out. A nice way to present them is to butterfly the birds (the British expression for this is “spatchcock”) and cook them flattened on the grill. You’ll need kitchen shears: Turn a bird breast side down. Using the shears, snip along either side of the backbone and pull it out (save it for making stock). Turn the bird skin side up. With the heel of your hand, press down firmly between the breasts to flatten the two halves, but keep them connected.

Marinate them in a mixture of allspice, turmeric, ginger, coriander, cumin, and orange — they can sit overnight at this point — and then head to the grill. Heat only half the grill. Cook the birds first on the hot side for a few minutes, then move to the cool side, cover, and finish cooking in what is now essentially an outdoor oven. Keep an instant read thermometer handy; cooking times will vary slightly depending on the grill heat and the size of the birds. Set them on a bed of sauteed greens (pea shoots, beet greens, spinach, or baby kale), and you have the most appealing backyard feast.

Serves 6

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½ onion, finely chopped
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon finely grated orange rind
cup orange juice
Salt and pepper, to taste
6 Cornish hens (1¼ to 1½ pounds each), butterflied
Canola oil (for the grill)

1. Have on hand a baking dish or roasting pan (not aluminum) large enough to hold all the birds.

2. In a bowl, combine the onion, olive oil, allspice, turmeric, ginger, coriander, cumin, orange rind and juice, salt, and pepper. Mix well.

3. One at a time, dip hens into the marinade and turn to coat them. Transfer to the baking dish or roasting pan. Pour any marinade left in the bowl over them. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour, or for up to overnight.

4. Light a charcoal or gas grill so the coals or heat are on one side only. Dip a paper towel in canola oil and carefully oil the grates.

5. On the hot side of the grill, place the hens, skin sides up, and grill for 5 minutes, or until lightly charred. Turn them and set them skin side down. Cook for 4 minutes more. Turn them skin side up and move to the cooler side of the grill. Cover the grill and cook for 10 to 15 minutes, or until a meat thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the breast registers 160 degrees. Transfer to a platter.


1 pound young greens (pea shoots, beet greens, spinach, or baby kale), tough stems removed
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 tablespoon water
Salt and pepper, to taste
Few drops of lemon juice, or to taste

1. If using stemmed greens like pea shoots, cut them into 2-inch lengths. Rinse but do not spin dry the greens. The water that clings to the leaves helps them steam.

2. In a large, deep skillet over medium-high heat, heat the olive oil and garlic. When the garlic sizzles for 20 seconds, add the greens, water, salt, and pepper. Cook for 3 to 5 minutes, turning often with tongs, or until wilted and tender. Add more water if the pan seems dry. Sprinkle with lemon juice. Taste for seasoning and add more salt, pepper, or lemon juice, if you like. Add to the platter of hens.

Sally Pasley Vargas