Three Bites: Cornish Game Hen

Craig OuthierSeptember 21, 2020
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Photography by Gabrielle Hofer
Photography by Gabrielle Hofer

Flavorful flesh makes the Cornish game hen the poultry of choice at Middle Eastern restaurants.

Kabob Grill N Go

3050 N. 16th St., Phoenix
Contrary to the name, Cornish game hens aren’t game and aren’t even technically Cornish – the diminutive chicken breed was first hybridized by a pair of Connecticut farmers in the 1950s. But Cornish hen flesh is unusually sweet, delicate and flavorful, qualities that have made it a common fixture on Middle Eastern menus. “It’s a little fattier [than regular chicken], which makes it ideal for charbroiling,” says owner-chef Tony Chilingaryan, who serves whole Cornish hen on the bone ($12.80, pictured) at his new 16th Street kabobery. Prepped in a marinade that tastes subtly of citrus and coriander, the hen is mesquite broiled until it achieves a divine ratio of supple juiciness and crispy char, without a whisper of dryness. Served over basmati rice with a refreshing Shirazi salad, grilled tomatoes and choice of dipping sauces – get the chimichurri if you like garlic, it’ll make your eyes water – it gets our vote for the Valley’s best grilled poultry.

Pars Persian Cuisine

11144 N. Frank Lloyd Wright Blvd.,
Scottsdale, 480-551-3222,
Like many beef and pork breeds, the Cornish game hen is subject to certain performance requirements. Namely, the bird can be no older than five weeks, and can weigh no more than 2 pounds at the time of slaughter. So it’s not without significance that this Iranian restaurant in North Scottsdale lists a precise weight – 24 oz. – in the menu description of its Cornish-Kebab ($22). Per the Persian obsession with all things aromatic, the hen is bathed in a saffron-citrus marinade prior to its skewering and date with the grill, then laid on a mattress of basmati rice with grilled tomatoes and a side of mast-o khiar (a cooling yogurt dip). For a small upcharge, you can substitute the basmati for several other jeweled rice variations.

Café Chenar

1601 E. Bell Rd., Phoenix
In olden times, the trading route known as the Silk Road cut through the modern-day country of Uzbekistan, flooding its culinary biome with a dizzying medley of cuisines, ranging from Korean to Eastern European. Mazal Uvaydov draws from many of them at her Uzbek restaurant in North Phoenix, where one of the stars of the menu is tabaka ($19), a Georgian dish that traditionally calls for a smallish, immature chicken – smartly updated by Uvaydov with a Cornish hen. Uvaydov spatchcocks the bird and rubs it in a simple blend of salt, pepper and cumin seed before placing it in a roasting pan. She weighs it down to accelerate the caramelization of the hen’s fatty skin as it cooks. Served with a choice of fries, mashed potatoes, grilled veggies or basmati rice, the griddled hen is a nibbler’s dream, with moist bites of crispy, salty meat hanging off every wing and leg bone. Bye, bye birdie.


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