Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Smoked Pineapple Game Hens (aka Mini-Can Mini-Chickens)

Cornish game hens are kind of like having your own personal size chicken.  They’re so cute!  Not to mention, so tender, juicy and absolutely delicious.  

Years ago, they used to be all the rage…it occurred to me last week that we hadn’t had them for dinner in many years.  It was time to change that!  These days, they aren't easy to find.  You used to be able to buy them in the fresh poultry area of the grocery store, not so any more.  I found them in the frozen section wrapped two to a package at a very reasonable price, so I very happily tossed them into my cart.  Oh yes, Sunday would be the day to resurrect an old favorite! 

The plan was to marinate those adorable little suckers in pineapple juice along with some Asian flavors and let them spend some time on the smoker.  For some reason, crisp, succulent skin isn’t something I can achieve on a smoker.  (Am I the only one with that problem?  Anyone know the solution to rubbery poultry skin on the smoker?) And so, to achieve both the smokiness AND the nice crispy skin I was looking for, a turn on the grill with a smoker box filled with applewood chips was the choice for this day.

As I was prepping the game hens, I kept looking at the single-serving pineapple juice can I’d emptied into the marinade and then I’d look at the cavity of the hens…and back again.  You know, the small juice cans were the perfect size to make a sort of beer can chicken only with juice cans and game hens.  Aha!  Mini-Can Mini-Chickens it would be!  

If you haven't had game hens in a while, or if you've never tried them at all, maybe the time has come to enjoy your very own personal sized, adorable and DELICIOUS little chickens!   

Don't they look like old men sitting on stools outside the barbershop?!

Smoked Pineapple Game Hens (aka Mini-Can Mini-Chickens)

  • 1/4 cup tamari soy sauce, wheat free to make this GF
  • 1/4 cup hot sauce, Frank's Red Hot Sweet Chile Sauce (this is new, look for it on your grocery store shelf by the regular Frank's)
  • 1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic
  • 2 cans pineapple juice, 1 single serving size can - save the cans!

  • 2 cornish game hens, rinsed & patted dry

  • 2 tablespoons hot sauce, Frank's Red Hot Sweet Chile Sauce
  • 3 tablespoons pineapple juice
  • 2 tablespoons pineapple preserves

  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 2 tablespoons tamari - wheat free to make this GF
  • 1 teaspoon granulated garlic

Marinade:  In a gallon sized zip top bag, mix the tamari, Frank's, granulated garlic and 1 can of pineapple juice - be sure you use the single serving size.  Set the can aside to use later.  Put the game hens in the bag with the marinade, squeeze out all the air and seal tightly.  Refrigerate at least 4 hours or overnight if you have the time.
At this point, remove the paper labels from the pineapple juice cans and wash well. Set aside until you need them.
If you want to smoke the game hens on the grill, start soaking applewood chips an hour before you plan to start cooking them. 
When you're ready to grill, remove the hens from the marinade and pat them dry.  Set aside. 
Baste:  Mix up 2 T. Frank's Red Hot Sweet Chile Sauce, 3 T. pineapple juice, 2 T. pineapple preserves.  Set aside.
Now it's time to get the hens ready.  Pour HALF the juice in one can into the other can so both cans have equal amounts of liquid.  Add 1/2  t. cayenne pepper to each can, then add 1 T. tamari to each can and last 1/2  t. granulated garlic to each can.  Swish the cans carefully to mix, being careful not to spill them.  Place a game hen over each juice can just like you would with a beer can chicken and put them on the hot grill.  (See the picture above.)  Arrange those little legs like a tripod to keep them upright!  

If you're smoking, put the soaked applewood chips into a smoker box under the grates - if you don't have a smoker box, wrap them in several layers of foil securely and cut a couple of 1/2" slits into the top of the foil packet.  

Arrange the hens carefully on the grill, tripod style, so they don't tip over.  Grill over medium low heat until the hens are cooked through.and beautifully browned , basting every 10 minutes during the last half hour of cooking. 

To Serve:   VERY CAREFULLY remove the cans from the hens.  Keep them upright at all times to the hot liquid doesn't spill and burn you!  Let the hens rest before serving  Cut each in half along the breastbone and back to serve. 
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