The other night, I had what I'll delicately call an inspiration: Why not apply the "magic" (butterfly) chicken technique to Cornish hens? As I've occasionally mentioned here before, I have a standard quick-and-easy technique for chicken, in which I cut out the backbone from a frying hen, flatten the bird, apply herbs and garlic according to mood, and either grill it quickly over coals or roast it in the oven at high heat. No muss, no fuss, it makes a crunchy bird with a lot of the natural fat rendered out before eating by the heat.

The technique worked great for baby birds, and I added flavor interest by marinating them in an Italian-style lemon and oil mix.

It's just as simple as this: Take two Cornish hens and split them down the backbone (sturdy kitchen scissors make this easy). Flatten them in a shallow dish, tuck their wingtips back under the breast to hold them in place; sprinkle heavily with black pepper, and drizzle a mixture of lemon juice and olive oil over them. Leave to marinate at room temperature, turning occasionally, for an hour or more.

Preheat the oven to 450. Place the birds on a rack in a shallow roasting pan, pour about half the marinade over, and pop 'em in. After 15 minutes, baste with the rest of the marinade, and continue roasting. Check status after 15 minutes more, and baste with the juices from the bottom of the pan. They should be done, crispy and brown within 40 to 45 minutes, although I find that they stay quite moist and juicy inside even if you go a little over.