A few years back, I was on a Portuguese cooking kick. I couldn’t get enough of it. In this quest, I stumbled upon a treasure-trove of wonderful dishes at portuguesecooking.com. Not only were there recipes, but stories and tantalizing tidbits of how the dish came to be from folklore and historical facts of many of the dishes. Needless to say, I was in heaven, devouring the tidbits while adding recipe after recipe to my collection.
The original recipe called for the hens to marinate overnight, which is typical of most chicken marinades. While some meats can marinate for only a few hours, chicken usually requires a longer time for the meat to fully marry with the flavors of the marinade. This is due in part because the meat of a chicken is dense, taking more time to soak in the flavors. Another reason is that chicken has skin, which repels the marinate to some degree. You can always remove the skin, but there are certain times when crisp-grilled skin adds to the flavor of the foods. This is one such time, believe me.
The first time I made this dish, I had intended to marinate the game hens overnight. However; sometimes the universe has other plans. My father was hospitalized on the day I had planned to grill up my hens, so Saturday’s supper became Sunday’s delight. I will admit, I was worried that the birds might be too spicy (yeah, like that’s possible in our house) or tough. They were perfect – rich in flavor, tender and so moist! While the additional day of marinating was born out of necessity of circumstance, I have since adjusted the recipe to include a 48-hour “soak”.
Portuguese Grilled Chili Basted Game Hens
1 tablespoon coarse kosher or sea salt
4 cloves garlic, halved
1 tablespoon sweet paprika
2 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro or parsley
1/4 teaspoon ground black or white pepper
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 to 3/4 cup olive oil as needed
1/4 cup hot chili sauce or 1/2 cup bottled hot sauce
2 Cornish Hens
Toss the salt into a mortar and using the pestle crush the garlic into the salt forming a paste. Grind in the paprika, follow by the cilantro or parsley and the ground pepper. Mix in the wine vinegar. Drizzle in enough olive oil to make a mushy spreadable paste. Stir in the hot sauce of your choice. (I used Louisiana Style Hot Sauce).
Cut the Cornish hens from the stem to stern, down the belly to open them up. Turn them over and cut along the back bone so that you cut each chicken in half. A good pair of kitchen shears makes quick work of this without butchering the meat. Generally speaking, the less you manhandle your foods, the better. Too much prodding, poking and chopping and you run the risk of bruising your foods – not good. You also can just leave them butter-flied. Place them in a non-reactive pan. A large glass casserole dish work well for this.
Coat the hens with the garlic seasoning sauce and turn to evenly season them. Cover the marinating container with plastic wrap and chill for 48-hours turning occasionally and at least once each night before retiring for the evening.
About 30 minutes before cooking, bring the birds our of the refrigerator and allow them to come to room temperature. As you do, your kitchen will fill with a wonderful aromatic scent of the spices and your mouth will get to watering in no time! While the birds rest on the counter, build a nice fire in the barbecue grill. Be sure to oil the grate well before grilling to prevent foods from sticking. When the fires is ready, remove the birds from the marinate, allowing the excess to drip back into the dish. Reserve your marinade – you’re goint to need it later for basting the birds in the exquisitly matured flavors as they grill.
Note: If you use a charcoal barbecue and haven’t discovered a chimney for heating the coals, you really need to give it a try. Your coals will heat up nicely and lighter fluid becomes a thing of the past. All you get is the natural flavors of your meats with a nice smoky accent. Depending upon how many coals are heated, it takes about 20 minutes to have a glowing bed of coals.
Place skin side up on the hot grill, basting and grilling for about 15 minutes. Turn the birds over, skin side down, and continue to grill for another 15 minutes. Stop basting about 2 minutes before the birds are done so that any raw marinade applied will have time to cook. If using a thermometer, the internal temperature of the thick part of the thigh should be 165 degrees. If you don’t have a thermometer, simply grill until the juices run clear when pierced.
Remove hens from the grill, transfer to a large serving platter and tent to keep warm. Let rest for about 10 minutes before serving. If desired, birds may be carved further for ease of serving or left alone. Be sure to warm some tortillas to serve alongside the birds. It’s a match made in heaven.
If your family is anything like mine, there won’t be much left of the birds. I love it when a meal is a success and everyone gathered at the table has had their fill, don’t you? Yeah, nothing compares to a chicken picked clean. That’s when you KNOW you’re dish was a hit. Satisfação perfeita é conseguida!