I love the flavor of crisp, herby, grilled game birds. Sometimes we are lucky and find pheasants or guinea fowl at our farmers' market, but usually we are delighted with tender, juicy poussins (very young chickens) or fresh game hens. Whichever bird you choose, the procedure will be the same, though cooking time will vary a bit. In any case, they won't take long on the grill; watch them carefully. Do not rush the process, the coals must die down to medium-hot. Ask your butcher to halve the birds (or do it yourself by cutting out the back and flattening them with the back of your hand).
Occasionally I like to serve a mixed grill—with lamb chops alongside the game birds, as shown on the next page.
6 game hens, squab, or poussins, cut in half
1 teaspoon salt
For the marinade
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup chopped fresh thyme or rosemary leaves
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Pinch of crushed red pepper flakes, optional
Herb sprigs, for garnish
Pat the birds dry and season them generously with salt.
In a small bowl, stir together the garlic, salt, pepper, thyme, olive oil, and red pepper flakes.
Do not rinse the salt from the birds but make sure they are very dry; pat with paper towels. The secret to crispness is very dry skin. Stuff a little of the marinade under the skin of the birds and rub the rest on the outside. Cover, refrigerate, and marinate the birds for 30 minutes or overnight. Save any remaining marinade.
Prepare a charcoal fire or preheat a gas grill to medium.When the coals are medium-hot, place the birds on the grill, skin side down. Cook for about 15 minutes, until they are brown and crisp. Turn and continue to cook for another 15 to 20 minutes, brushing with a little of the remaining marinade. To check for doneness, make an incision at the point where the thigh meets the body of the bird, if the juices run clear and there is no visible redness, take them off the grill. Smaller birds will take a little less time, about 15 minutes on the skin side and only about 10 minutes once flipped.
Transfer the birds to a warm platter and scatter a few sprigs of herbs over the top.
Seasonal Menus for Sensational Dinner Parties
by Peggy Knickerbocker
Photographs by Christopher Hirsheimer
Stewart, Tabori & Chang
Hardcover; 224 pages; 50 full-color photographs; 100 recipes
$35.00 [$49.00 Canada]
Recipe reprinted by permission.
This page created November 2005
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