SPLIT CORNISH HENS WITH GARLIC/TRUFFLE SAUCE (CONTINENTAL)
Knowing that I was going to fashion a holiday dinner from Cornish hens last night, but not quite certain (as of 4 p.m.) what exactly I was going to DO with them, I raced out to my favorite gor-may store. I came home with a tiny vial containing two corn-kernel-size black truffles from Alba and a few drops of truffle juice, $19.95 the pair (9 grams), which works out to something like $960 per pound. Hey, spare no expense, right?
So I combined a Marcella Hazan preparation with my customary split and butterflied chicken procedure, added a little of this and a little of that, and came up with something mighty good:
Several hours before dinner, rinse and pat dry a pair of Cornish hens (or very small chickens, about 1.5 pounds each). Split the carcasses down the back and flatten them slightly; place on a plate and drizzle with Bourbon; leave them in the refrigerator for several hours, wiping them occasionally with additional Bourbon.
About an hour before dinner, preheat the oven to 450F. Give the birds one last Bourbon wash, then place them on a rack in a large, shallow roasting pan, and place on the bottom of the pan: 1 bay leaf; 4 whole cloves; 1 sprig fresh rosemary; and 1 large smashed garlic clove. Pop in the oven and roast at 450, basting occasionally with the pan juices, for about 40 minutes or until the chickens are just cooked through and the skin is crackling dark-golden brown.
Remove the birds to an oven-proof serving platter, pat about 1 tablespoon of Parmigiano Reggiano onto the breast and thighs of each, and pop them back into the oven (reduced to 325F) for 5 to 10 minutes, long enough for the cheese to melt and start to brown. Meanwhile, start a little minced garlic cooking in a skosh of olive oil in a sautee pan over low heat. Remove as much fat as possible from the roasting pan; put the pan on a burner and pour in 2 ounces Bourbon, stirring it to deglaze and pick up all the good crunchy bits. Let it boil until it's reduced to a syrup, then pour it into the cooking garlic, which at this point should be turning golden. Add 1 cup chicken broth and 1 minced black truffle, bring to the boil, and thicken slightly with a little cornstarch dissolved in water.
Remove the cheese-topped birds from the oven and serve, with the garlicky truffle sauce on the side. We kept the accompaniments simple -- Steamed rice and fresh spinach -- and served it with a robust Ripasso, a hearty Valpolicella from the Veneto in Northeastern Italy.