Recipe: Cocoa-Rubbed Cornish Game Hens with Roasted Grapes

This meal is satisfying on so many different levels. It's quick to put together, feels special enough for a Sunday supper with company, and can be replicated with chicken, turkey, or even duck (with cooking times adjusted, accordingly). For side dishes, consider simple mashed potatoes and green beans. Or a salad of dark greens, and a fresh baguette to sop up the delicious, slightly sweet, juices. 

Serves 4


2 small Cornish game hens

2 tablespoons natural cocoa powder

2 teaspoons five spice powder

1 teaspoon sea salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

8 shallots, peeled and quartered

2 tablespoons olive oil

a few small sprigs of fresh rosemary

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

2 tablespoons honey

1/4-1/2 cup water

1 large bunch red or purple grapes



  1. Heat your oven to 375 degrees.  
  2. Rinse and pat dry the game hens. 
  3. Mix the cocoa, five spice powder, salt, and black pepper in a small bowl. Place the hens in shallow dish, and sift the rub mixture over them. Gently rub the mixture all over the birds.  
  4. Heat the olive oil in a wide oven-proof skillet (cast iron would be a good choice) over a medium flame. When the oil is hot, place the birds, breast side down, in the pan (set aside the dish the birds were in. Do not rinse it out). Sear the breasts for 3 or 4 minutes, then carefully loosen them with a spatula so as not to tear the delicate skin, and flip.  
  5. Add the shallots to the pan, and saute for another 4 or 5 minutes.
  6. While the birds and the shallots are cooking, mix the balsamic vinegar, honey and water in the shallow dish the birds were in. Scrape any leftover spice rub into the liquid. When the shallots are lightly browned and blistered, add the scrape the vinegar/honey mixture into the skillet, add the grapes and rosemary sprigs, and shake the pan to loosen the birds and deglaze the pan. 
  7. Immediately put the skillet in the hot oven and roast for 45 minutes to an hour, or until a drumstick twists loose easily. Remove the skillet from the oven. 
  8. Arrange the roasted birds and the grapes on a platter. While they rest, place the skillet over a medium high flame and reduce the drippings and the shallots to a jammy glaze. This will take about 5 minutes. Pour the glaze over the birds, or serve it in a gravy dish, tableside. 

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