Cornish Hens and Egg Spaetzle

From Tony de Luca’s new cookbook, Simply in Season (Whitecap, 2010). Use your favourite BC Pinot Noir for the sauce.


Cornish hen is a wonderful alternative to chicken, its breast meat delicate, the legs full of flavour. Frozen Cornish hens are available in most larger supermarkets, but I prefer fresh birds. I cherish the relationships I have with all my food purveyors, but I nurture most the one I have with my butcher. So, when I order Cornish hens, he sends them to me boned out and ready to cook, but includes the bones so I can use them to make stock.

In this recipe, the hens are cooked skin side down on a hot baking sheet. This caramelizes the skin beautifully and ups the visual and taste quotient. Spaetzle is a very easy-to-make dumpling and a nice change to sides of potato, rice, or pasta.


Egg Spaetzle:

4 eggs

1/2 cup (125 mL) milk

pinch freshly grated nutmeg

pinch table salt

2 Tbsp (30 mL) finely chopped herbs, such as thyme, sage, and rosemary

1 1/2 cups (375 mL) all-purpose flour


Combine the eggs, milk, nutmeg, and salt in a bowl and whisk to combine. Gradually add the flour a little at a time, mixing until a smooth, elastic dough forms. Let stand for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a rapid boil. Set a colander over the pot, ensuring the water does not touch the colander. Have ready a large bowl of ice water. Place the spaetzle dough, a little at a time, into the colander and using a pastry scraper, push the dough through the holes in the colander to form spaghetti-like strings.

Simmer the spaetzle dumplings until they float to the surface. Using a slotted spoon, carefully remove the dumplings from the pot and immediately plunge them into the ice water. Drain well then refrigerate until ready to serve.


Pinot Noir Sauce:

3/4 cup (185 mL) Pinot Noir

2 shallots, finely chopped

2 sprigs thyme

3 black peppercorns

3/4 cup (185 mL) veal jus

1 Tbsp (15 mL) cold unsalted butter

1 tsp (5 mL) red wine vinegar


In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine the Pinot Noir, shallots, thyme, and peppercorns and simmer until reduced by three-quarters. Add the veal jus and bring back to a simmer. Strain the sauce through a fine-mesh sieve into a clean saucepan and set aside.

Just before serving, warm the sauce gently over low heat and whisk in the butter until melted. Stir in the vinegar.


Cornish Hens:

4 Cornish hens, boned

kosher salt and black pepper to taste

1/4 cup (60 mL) olive oil

12 baby carrots

3 Tbsp (45 mL) unsalted butter

1 Tbsp (15 mL) maple syrup

1 sprig thyme

Egg Spaetzle

2 Tbsp (30 mL) slivered almonds, lightly toasted


Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C). Place a large rimmed baking sheet in the oven for about 10 minutes to get hot.

Meanwhile, lay the hens skin side down on a work surface. Season them generously with salt and pepper to taste and drizzle with 3 Tbsp (45 mL) of the olive oil. Remove the hot baking sheet from the oven and carefully lay the Cornish hens skin side down on the baking sheet. Return the baking sheet to the oven and roast for 25 minutes or until the skins have browned and an instant-read thermometer inserted in the thickest part of one of the hens registers 160°F (71°C). Remove the hens from the oven and let rest for 10 minutes before serving.

Meanwhile combine the carrots, 2 Tbsp (30 mL) of the butter, the maple syrup, and thyme in a small saucepan and simmer for 25 minutes or until the carrots are tender and glazed, and the liquid has evaporated. Season with salt and pepper to taste and keep warm until ready to serve.

Heat the remaining olive oil and butter in a large non-stick skillet. When the butter foams, add the spaetzle dumplings and sauté them until golden brown.

To serve, divide the carrots among 4 warm dinner plates. Spoon the spaetzle beside the carrots on each plate. Lay a Cornish hen skin side up on top of the carrots and spaetzle. Spoon the Pinot Noir sauce around the edge of the plate. Garnish with almonds.


Serves 4.

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