Cornish game hens stuffed with spinach and goat cheese

I’ve been reading a lot about the diets and living conditions of conventionally raised poultry – birds that have no space to move, chickens whose breasts become so big (because they have been genetically engineered or – possibly even worse for the health of the consumer – given hormones to have this consumer-desired trait) that their legs give out, and poultry fed diets that include body parts and feces of other animals (in an effort for companies to reuse discarded parts of other slaughtered animals).  I also discovered that the label “free-range” on a bird bought in the grocery store does not usually mean what one might typically picture: a small family-owned farm with a few happy chickens scattered around the yard, eating grass and grubs to their hearts’ content.  Instead, this label is often applied to chickens who are kept indoors – once again in crowded conditions – and fed a diet of grain, but who have access to the outdoors, giving them the option to graze.  However, since these chickens were raised indoors and have never been taken outside, they typically do not venture out of their building.  So they are not really free-range, and paying the extra money for them is a rip-off.

I have been eating more local, free-range poultry, and it is quite delicious!  It turns out free-range birds are fed a diet of grain, just like conventionally raised birds, but it is supplemented by whatever delicious morsels they find while roaming.  I remember this is how the chickens were raised on my family’s farm in Poland too.  It turns out that chickens naturally eat grain, and they need it to meet their caloric and nutrient intake, but they also consume grasses and grubs.  So this kind of diet seems like the most natural way to feed poultry, and the free-range lifestyle ensures what I consider to be more ethical conditions.

Today I made cornish game hens for the first time – I had never eaten one before!  I created a dry rub using a variety of spices and stuffed them with a spinach-goat cheese mixture, inspired by the woman who sold me the game hens at the McAllen Farmers Market.  Below is the recipe.

Ingredients:

Rub:

Lemon pepper

Garlic powder

Dried basil

Poultry seasoning

Salt

Freshly cracked black pepper

Stuffing:

1 large bag baby spinach (preferably organic)

3 oz. goat cheese (plain or herbed)

2 gloves garlic, minced

salt and freshly cracked black pepper, to taste

Other:

Olive oil (or butter)

Wine

Directions:

1.) Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

2.) Mix all of the spices for the rub.  Use the quantities and proportions desired.  (I used a total of about 1.5 tablespoons of rub for 2 game hens).  Set aside.

3.) Roughly chop the baby spinach.  Add a small amount of water and microwave it until wilted.

4.) Strain the spinach.  Sprinkle it with salt (to drain out the liquid from the spinach).  After a few minutes, rinse out the salt and squeeze out the water from the spinach.

5.) In a bowl, combine the spinach, goat cheese, and garlic.  Add salt and freshly cracked black pepper to taste.

6.) Cut the hens’ skin from the thigh to the wing on both sides of the bird.  Rub olive oil over the bird.  Lift up the skin and rub the dry rub into the meat under the flaps.  Rub the skin of the bird with the rub as well.  (I like to cover the whole bird with the dry rub.)

7.) Stuff the cavity with the spinach-goat cheese mix.

8.) Bake until the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees Fahrenheit (measured by sticking a meat thermometer into the thigh, never touching the bone).  During baking, baste with white wine every 20 minutes.

The meat of these free-range birds really is quite exquisite – they taste more “meaty” or “henny” than conventionally raised poultry.  They turned out tender, and basting them ensured the meat retained its moistness.  The stuffing was also quite tasty – goat cheese and spinach work really well together, and it provided a nice accompaniment to the meat.  And to top it off, I know I made a healthy and ethical decision by supporting a local farmer who raises free-range poultry 🙂

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