My fridge was looking pretty bleak a few days after Christmas. After going three weeks without so much as a grocery run, I was left with a half-finished bottle of cheap white wine, some orange juice left over from holiday mimosas, a wilted bulb of fennel, and some nearly-dried thyme. Not exactly the stuff of an inspired meal. But after discovering a Cornish game hen in the back of my freezer, I decided to improvise with my own version of Chopped. I supplemented our understocked fridge with a few pantry staples, channeled Ratatouille, and proceeded to make what may be my proudest culinary accident since beer can chicken (a legend for another time).
After searing the skin of the game hen in a cast-iron pan (a technique I learned from Craig Claiborne) I baked it over sautéd fennel and dates with a glaze from the orange juice and some added honey. After layering the chicken over the fennel-date mixture, some sliced lemons, and thyme, I threw in a bit of white wine to the pan to deglaze and add some moisture, which also kept the fennel from burning and the chicken moist (sorry, but I love that word when applied to cakes and perfectly cooked poultry!). You guys. It was *chef's kiss* fantastic. Since making it, I've finessed the recipe a bit and tested it to blog-worthiness but, most of all, I hope this inspires your own Chopped adventure through your fridge—and to put that last glug of orange juice to good use. Without further ado, here's my chicken pièce de résistance:
You will need:
1 Cornish game hen, halved (or chicken if you can't find a game hen—I provide cook times for both below!)
Salt and pepper, to taste
4 tablespoons butter, divided
2 fennel bulbs, chopped
About 6 dates, roughly chopped
1 cup orange juice
4 tablespoons honey
1 lemon, sliced
About 1 cup dry white wine
How to make it:
1. To prepare the game hen/chicken, remove the giblets and cut in half along one side of the spine and down the center of the breast using chicken shears. Do not rinse (any bacteria bakes off in the oven, and you'll just risk getting yucky stuff in your sink), and pat dry with a kitchen or paper towel. Leave on a plate in your fridge, uncovered (this will help the skin dry out to be extra-crispy), for up to eight hours.
2. 30 minutes before cooking, remove game hen from fridge to bring close to room temp, pat dry again, and season skin with salt and pepper, to taste. Preheat oven to 350° F (or 375° F if cooking a full-sized chicken).
3. Add 2 tablespoons of butter to a cast-iron or other oven-safe pan over medium-high heat. Once the butter has melted and is just starting to sizzle, add the chicken skin-side down and place a plate on top of the chicken, with something to weigh the plate down (I usually use a pan or heavy copper pot). Lower the heat to medium and cook until the skin is golden brown, about seven to 12 minutes.
4. As the chicken cooks, add orange juice and honey to a small saucepan. Bring to a low simmer and cook until reduced to about 1/4 cup, about 25 minutes (roughly the time the rest of the steps take, until needed).
5. Once the chicken skin is golden brown, remove it from the cast-iron and transfer to a clean plate (not the same one you used for the raw chicken), raise heat to medium-high, add the rest of the butter to the pan, then the fennel. Sauté, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes. Add the dates, then cook until fennel has softened, another few minutes.
6. Add white wine to the fennel-date mixture then layer sliced lemon and thyme evenly across the top. Finally, add the chicken skin-side up.
7. Brush the orange juice-honey glaze on top.
8. Bake until internal temperature reaches 160° F, about 30 minutes for game hen at 350° F, or at 375° F for 35 minutes for chicken (it will cook faster, since it's halved, but double check the internal temp.).
9. Serve with roasted vegetables over rice or farro, with plenty of the date, fennel, and lemons!