Monday, June 14, 2010

The Many Lives of a Game Hen

This week I cut up a Cornish game hen from Greens, Eggs, and Ham. Cornish game hens are a special breed of chicken that is usually slaughtered while still very young (five weeks or less) so that the meat is especially delicate. They are therefore usually very small, maybe a pound for a whole bird. This game hen was massive: I didn't weigh it, but I would guess that it was well over five pounds. Happily I was able to try a few different poultry dishes with this one bird.

Part I: The Thighs and Legs

My first preparation was a ballotine. A portion of meat is boned* to make a single, flat sheet of flesh, which is then rolled around a stuffing, cooked, and served hot or cold.

* "Boning" is the removal of bones from meat. The modern English speaker has extreme difficulty with this word, and so "de-boning" is becoming the more common verb.

Here is the leg and thigh:

To bone the meat, make a cut to expose the length of the leg bone, which should then separate fairly easily from the flesh.

Repeat the process for the thigh bone. The thigh bone doesn't release as easily as the leg bone, so you'll have to cut it out of the flesh. Also, there are several tendons where the leg bone used to be that should be removed. They look like shiny, white bands.

Save the bones and trim.

I made a simple stuffing of onions and celery sautéed in butter, with fresh bread crumbs and wild rice.

Traditionally, ballotines are tied with cheesecloth and twine. If your ballotines fit tightly enough in your baking vessel, they will hold their shape without string.

As a final flourish, I wrapped my ballotines in caul. Caul is a fatty membrane that surrounds the stomach of animals. Several charcuterie items, like free-form sausages, are wrapped in caul, which bastes the meat during cooking and helps it keep its shape.

The caul isn't necessary in this case, as the thigh and leg meat is already quite fatty. Even so, I had caul fat on hand, so I figured I'd take the opportunity to use it.

Cook until chicken reaches temperature and the skin is thoroughly browned.


  1. Where did you get the caul fat??????? I have been looking for it and no one even knows what I am talking about. The boning looks great - and I think you need to teach me in person.... I saw these little bundles tied up all over Europe in Farmer's Markets and in Butcher shops... really, please write to me. I must find your caul fat source!

  2. You should be able to order it from butchers like Easyford Meats. They've handled a lot of my less-common requests.

    I also suspect that farmers' market vendors like Sunworks or Trowlesworthy would be able to help. They carry offal and suet and the like, and I bet they could find you some caul.

  3. I was going to ask you where you got the caul fat from, but someone else already got to it!

    Though, I'd recommend a delicious book (you probably already know about it) entitled "Fat".

  4. I've heard a lot a good things about Fat (the book), but I haven't read it yet. I could go broke buying books about food.

    My actual source for the caul (which I completely evaded in my earlier reply to Valerie) was NAIT. They order it in once a year so that the first year culinary students can work with it. They had a lot left over, so I asked if I could take it home.

    A few people have expressed interest in the caul. I'm thinking about organizing a mass purchase through a restaurant supplier. I suspect Valerie and Kevin would be in. Anybody else? Michelle?

  5. Hi Allan:

    1. My source for the book was the Edmonton Public Library (and if they don't have a book you want, you can request it and they usually purchase it unless you can obtain it through another means that they have). AND that is all for their annual membership of only 12$ !! But NAIT might even have a special deal with them like the U of A does where you can essentially use your student card like a library card there !

    1.5 I highly recommend the fat book !

    2. Sorry, I won't be able to get in on the purchase . . . my food experimenting won't have as much time in future. But I want to see some 'after' photos when you use different kinds of caul !

  6. in South Africa we make a dish called tortoise , its liver chopped up with onions and spices, wrapped in caul fat and put on a barbeque ... we immigrated to canada over 4 years ago and I am having a hard time finding caul fat as well ...