Thursday, June 2, 2011

Maria's Magic Game Hens

When Brad and I were in Napa this past March we did a farm to table tour at Robert Sinskey Vineyards, where we are members of their Gluttons and Gourmands club.  The G&G club is great.  You receive near-monthly shipments of wine, an original recipe by Maria Helm Sinskey that pairs with the wine, and a "culinary gift."  The wine is announced before the shipment arrives, but the recipe and culinary gift are always a surprise.

Our tour was a small group, so Brad and I were able to talk with the vineyard chef about the various club menus we had enjoyed in the past and quiz her about what was on deck for future shipments.  She showed us bottles of preserved lemons the culinary staff at the vineyard had been preparing and hinted that we may be receiving it along with a recipe for lobster rolls. 

I've had exactly one lobster roll in my entire life, at Neptune Oyster last year in Boston when and Brad and I were there for the marathon.  It.  Was.  Awesome. 

Ever since then I have craved more.  But a genuine lobster roll is pretty hard to come by here in Denver and I didn't want my follow-up lobster roll to disappoint.  So making it ourselves sounded like a great idea.  I found a local grocer that carries split-top buns and basically readied myself for lobster roll nirvana, to be delivered via the Sinskey G&G club shipment.  The anticipation nearly killed me.

And at last the preserved lemons arrived!  Hurrah!  With a recipe for . . . chicken.  Well, not exactly chicken, but game hens.  A little fancier, but still not the dish I was craving.

Roasted Game Hens with Preserved Lemon, Chickpeas & Olives
Not ones to dwell on disappointment, Brad and I forged ahead with the game hens.  And I have to say, they were spectacular.  The preserved lemon really did add the dash of salty zip that Maria promised.  For a brief moment the delicious game hen on my plate and Maria's engaging description of the alchemy of cooking in the club booklet made me forget all about the lobster roll.  Thus Maria's Magic Game Hens. 

I hope you enjoy them, too.  And if you have a recipe for a good lobster roll, please send it my way.

The wine sent to accompany the game hens was RSV's Abraxas, Vin de Terroir.  It is a blend of the four classic grapes of Alsace (Pinot Gris, Riesling, Gewurtztraminer and Pinot Blanc), with the exact proportions of each grape changing from year to year depending on the qualities exhibited by each particular harvest. 

The 2010 Abraxas is 43% Pinot Gris, 32% Pinot Blanc, 15% Gewurtztraminer, 10% Reisling, and 100% fabulous.  The wine is bottled with a glass stopper, which I always love and I always think I'll find some cool way to reuse that stopper.  Any suggestions would be appreciated.

According to Rob Sinskey, Abraxas was an ancient god who ruled the 365 heavens, each one with a lesser god and a virtue for every day of the year.  Over time, the name "Abraxas" morphed into the magic word "Abracadabra." 

So we had Rob's magic wine with Maria's magic game hen.  The pairing was indeed bewitching.  Hey, next time we'll have to serve it with some of Jack's magic fava beans.

Roasted Game Hens with Preserved Lemon, Chickpeas & Olives
Based on an original recipe by Maria Helm Sinskey, currently available online at the Robert Sinskey Vineyards website.  Brad modified the recipe as noted below to serve just the two of us, and added some Abraxas wine.  And we served it with a side of whole wheat Israeli couscous for a little carb supplement.  Maria's recipe for preserved lemons is also below, or you can purchase them at a specialty grocer.

1 game hen, cut into 4 pieces
Extra virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons finely sliced preserved lemon peel (about 1/8 lemon)
1 small garlic clove, sliced
2 3-inch sprigs fresh oregano
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1/4 medium yellow onion, diced
1/2 cup cooked chickpeas
1/4 cup assorted black and green olives
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1/2 cup chicken stock
1/4 cup white wine

Place hen in a medium sized non-reactive bowl or baking dish.  Add two tablespoons olive oil, the preserved lemon, garlic and oregano.  Sprinkel with 1 teaspoon kosher salt and a few grinds of black pepper.  Cover with plastic and marinate overnight in the refrigerator.

Remove hen from refrigerator about 20 minutes before cooking.  Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Heat a medium saute pan over medium-high heat.  Add 1 Tablespoon of olive oil and then the game hen pieces, skin side down.  Reserve the lemon peel, garlic and oregano pieces.  Cook the hen pieces until the skin is golden, about 5 to 7 minutes.  Turn and brown hen pieces on the other side, then remove to a plate.

Add the onions to the pan and cook, stirring frequently, until they begin to brown, 3 to 4 minutes.  Add the chickpeas, olives and reserved lemon peel and garlic.  Stir for a few minutes until heated through.

Add the game hens back to the pan, nestling them into the olives and chickpeas, then top with the reserved oregano sprigs.  Add the lemon juice, chicken stock and wine, and bring to a boil.  Transfer pan to oven and roast until done (pan juices are reduced and the juices from the hen runs clear, about 35 to 40 minutes).  If the pan juices dry out, add a few tablespoons of water to the pan.

Preserved Lemons
These preserved lemons will take about a week and a half to prepare, but should keep indefinitely in the refrigerator because of the salt and high acidity.  Discard them if you observe any mold in the jar.

2 lemons, Meyer or Seville
3 Tablespoons kosher salt
1 Tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
2 fresh bay leaves

Cut each lemon into 6 wedges.  Using a sharp knife, cut the center line of pith and remove seeds.

Put 1 1/2 Tablespoons of salt in the bottom of a clean 1/2 pint jar.  Place the lemon wedges on top and press down to release some of the juices.  Top with the remaining salt and olive oil.  Slide the bay leaves down the inside of the jar.

Marinate at room temperature for 3 to 4 days, pressing the lemons down with a wooden spoon each morning and night.  Add fresh lemon juice and olive oil as necessary to keep the lemons covered.  Cover and refrigerate for another week before using.

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