Game Hens: Your “Mini-Turkey” this Holiday Season

roasted game hens on a platter surrounded by herbs

COVID cases are expected to rise as we stay indoors more due to cold and rainy winter weather, and most of us will not be traveling to visit family or friends for the winter holidays. You can think of that sacrifice as the gift you are giving people you care about—their health.

So, if you are planning on a much smaller Christmas, Hanukkah, or Kwanzaa celebration, or if you have never cooked a holiday turkey before, the whole thing can seem rather daunting. Consider scaling back the size of your holiday turkey to a turkey breast or a turkey leg if you like dark meat. Or you can do one of each. They are a lot easier to cook than the whole bird, since they won’t dry out nearly as much.

Another idea for a holiday dinner for an intimate family group is to use Cornish game hens as your “miniature turkey.” Usually one bird will serve two people. Or, if you want to enjoy lots of leftovers for sandwiches, consider cooking one bird for each person at your dinner table.

Don’t stuff these little birds—the stuffing will be much better if you bake it in a casserole right alongside the birds. Add a flavorful homemade gravy and beautiful apple torte for dessert, and you and whomever you eat with will have a joyful holiday meal.

Mini-Turkeys—Cornish Game Hens

1 Cornish game hen for two people (or one per person for lots of leftovers)

2 tablespoons butter

Fresh herbs, chopped (sage, rosemary, thyme)

You can find Cornish game hens frozen at most supermarkets. Half of one is a good-sized serving for most people. If you are cooking for yourself, plan on some nice “turkey” sandwiches, or a second meal from the leftovers; otherwise, plan on one bird for two people.

The best way to thaw frozen game hens is to defrost in your fridge for 24–36 hours before cooking. You can use a microwave on defrost, but birds may cook in some areas during the microwave defrosting process. You can also defrost in cold running water. Put the packaged hen in a large bowl, and set it in the sink. Make sure the bowl does not block the drain. Fill it with cold water. Reduce the flow of cold water to a trickle. Leave the bowl under the tap so that it is continually changed with a small but constant stream of water. The hen will be thawed in about an hour and a half.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Put in a roasting pan or glass baking dish. Chop herbs and mix into butter. Brush butter over the skin and roast until golden brown and thermometer is at 180 degrees. This should take about 50–65 minutes.

Nutrition information, based on half a hen:

Calories: 375 Protein: 40 gm Sodium: 325mg

Healthy, Low-Sodium Gravy

2-1/2 C water

Chicken pieces, neck and/or  giblets

1/4 cup onion, chopped

1/4 tablespoon garlic, minced

1/4 cup carrots, chopped

1/4 cup celery, chopped

1/2 tablespoon olive oil

1/8 cup fresh parsley, chopped

1/2 tablespoon fresh marjoram or thyme (stems removed)

1/8 cup flour

1/4 cup unsalted butter

1/2 tablespoon cider vinegar

In a large pot, add water, chicken parts, chopped vegetables, garlic, and herbs to make a broth. Bring to a boil and simmer about 1 hour. Toast flour in oven on a cookie sheet at 350 degrees until light brown, about 10 minutes, stirring once or twice. Melt butter in a saucepan. Stir flour into butter mixture on medium heat. Strain broth through fine sieve. Pull meat off the bones, chop with giblets and return to broth. Add 3/4 cups broth to butter/flour mixture and cook over medium heat. Stir mixture until thick. Pour back into large pot with remaining broth. (You can do all this one day ahead and then move on to the next step the day you are serving the hens.) Bring stock to a boil over high heat, stirring often. Reduce heat and simmer about 5–10 minutes, stirring often. Add cider vinegar just before serving.

Nutrition information, based on 8 servings:

Calories: 77 Protein: 1 gm Sodium: 8 mg

Apple and Cream Cheese Torte

1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened

3/4 cup sugar, divided in 1/4 cups

1 cup flour

8 ounces cream cheese, softened

1 egg

1 teaspoon vanilla

3-4 medium apples, thinly sliced

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. In a medium bowl, cream butter and 1/4 cup of sugar. Blend in flour. Press into a springform pan. Beat cream cheese, 1/4 cup of sugar, egg, and vanilla until smooth. Spread into the springform pan. Toss apples with remaining 1/4 cup of sugar and cinnamon. Arrange apples over cheese filling. Bake for 10 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 400 degrees and bake for an additional 25–30 minutes until filling is firm and the apples have softened.

Nutrition information, based on 10 servings:

Calories: 298 Protein: 4 gm Sodium: 176mg

Katy G. WilkensContributor Katy G. Wilkens is a registered dietitian and department head at Northwest Kidney Centers. The National Kidney Foundation Council on Renal Nutrition has honored her with its highest awards for excellence in education and for significant contributions in renal nutrition.

This article originally appeared in the December 2020 issue of AgeWise King County.