Sunday, February 11, 2018

IN PRAISE OF CORNISH HENS



I “chickened out” from eating quantities of chicken soup during a siege of upper respiratory infections this winter and turned to something with a bit more texture last week — still a chicken but one that ain’t an egg layer — the Cornish Hen. I know this small bird resembles a chicken that didn’t get zapped with growth hormones that commercial producers use nowadays but they’re tasty hens that took me over the line between wasting away and feeling better this week. Nothing smells better than the scent of a Cornish Chicken baking and breaking the barrier between congestion and good health. The scent alone is curative.

Cornish Hens are actually a hybridized breed developed for commercial production, and 
I don’t know that I’ve ever seen one in its feathered state, but I’ve read that they’re an English breed with either white, black or red feathers and that they stay in the same locale on someone’s farm so that they can thrive in a specified environment. These babies are slow to mature, so, of course, commercial farmers thought up another idea to raise a hen that is a breed between Plymouth Rock Chickens and Cornish Chickens, which are prized because they grow fast. That’s the bird you’ll find at the local grocery.

Jacques and Alphonsine Makowsky, a Connecticut couple, developed the Cornish Hen in the United States during the 1950’s by crossbreeding Cornish Game Cocks with Plymouth Rock Hens, and a Malayan Fighting Cock. Alphonsine Makowsky, a French woman who fled from Europe during WWII, must’ve eaten a lot of those plump hens she raised on Idle Wild Farm in Connecticut as she lived to be 92. At one time, the succulent bird she introduced to the U.S. was a gourmet dish at fine dining establishments in New York City; e.g., Club 21.

Cornish Hen and Wild Rice was a premier menu served by one of the former members of The Fortnightly Literary Club here in New Iberia and was the main course of five-course meals once served by this club. The hostess, “Bootsie” Trappey, served a whole bird to each member, and most members, myself included, would come away familiar with what we began to call “the groaning board,” stuffed to the seams from the five-course meal. Most of the Cornish Hens weighed in at 2 - 3 pounds, and by the time the bread pudding with white-topped meringue came around, we were ready to doze off during the book review program that was part of every meeting.

Of course, some readers may prefer the Capon, a huge, castrated rooster weighing in at 6-10 pounds with plenty of fat that may out-flavor the Cornish Hen, but I prefer the little hen that advanced my recovery!

Cornish hen photo from https://chickenbreedslist.com



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