One of the first ethnic foods I learned to love after moving to America was Chinese takeout. My articular favorite is Szechuan cuisine, a hot tongue-numbing style of cooking. The spicy character of the food stems from the liberal use of the Szechuan pepper, which is really not a pepper at all but the berry of a native Chinese tree. As my understanding of Chinese cooking has evolved, I’ve used Szechuan pepper in many ways: in this case, as a glaze that gives Cornish game hen an unexpected burst of flavor. Serve this festive dish with fruit salad and steamed white rice to temper the flavor.
2 tbsp Szechuan pepper
2 poblano chiles, seeds and ribs removed, chopped
2 tbsp ketjap manis
2 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
1 tbsp coriander seeds
1 tsp toasted sesame oil
1 tbsp honey
1 Granny Smith apple, peeled, cored, and diced into 1/2 inch pieces
1 2-inch piece ginger, peeled and finely chopped
4 Cornish hens (about 1/4 lb each)
2 tbsp olive oil
Salt and fresh ground black pepper
Leaves from 2 thyme sprigs
1. Preheat the over to 375 F.
2. Bring 2 cups water to a boil. Add the Szechuan pepper and simmer for 30 seconds. Strain. Transfer to a bowl and add the chiles, ketjap manis, garlic, coriander seeds, sesame oil, and honey. Mix until well combined.
3. Toss the apples, onions, ginger, and 2 tablespoons of the Szechuan pepper mixture.
4. Brush the Cornish hens with olive oil and season with salt and pepper Stuff the apple mixture into the cavity of the Cornish hens and truss. Brush the skins with the remaining Szechuan pepper mixture. Sprinkle with thyme. Arrange the hens on a rack in a roasting pan.
5. Roast for 30 minutes, then increase the over temperature to 400 F and roast until golden brown, or when an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part reads 165 F, about another 25 minutes. Remove from the over and let rest for 15 minutes. Serve with with rice or fruit salad.