This post originally appeared at Honest Cooking
I think most of us would agree that roast chicken is a quintessential comfort food, and properly done, can hardly be improved upon. But even the classics are fun to play with, and by downsizing your chicken you can put an intimate, elegant spin on things. Poussins are, despite a fancy French name, nothing more than your standard chicken in miniature, weighing in under a pound and less than 28 days old.
A single poussin serves one, and so each diner can be magnificently presented with his or her own roast bird. Yet because they are petite, they are quick and easy to prepare, and even simpler to serve–no carving, no querying guests about whether they want dark or white meat. And since poussins are also known as “spring chickens,” what better time to enjoy them than now? Here’s how.
Seasoned with lavender and thyme, which herald the return of spring, these roasted poussins are aromatic and flavorful, and just unique enough to be a memorable meal. The lavender and thyme mellow and blend together and impart a subtle flavor to the roasted bird. Lemon brightens things up while butter keeps these diminutive birds moist and succulent.
You can find poussins through online vendors such as D’Artagnan or substitute slightly larger Cornish hens. And if you don’t want to downsize, you can simply double the quantities and simply make a roast chicken using the same method.
Put your own twist on this dish by creating your own compound butter with your favorite aromatics!
Lavender and Thyme Roasted Poussins adapted from Gourmet
- 1 teaspoon dried lavender buds
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
- 1/2 teaspoon dried or fresh thyme leaves, (minced if fresh)
- 1/4 teaspoon finely grated fresh lemon zest
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 2 poussins (young chickens; about 1 pound/just under a half kilo each) or 2 small Cornish hens (about 1 1/4 pounds/ just above a half kilo)
- 2 small lemons
- scant 1/4 (50 mL) Sauternes or other sweet white wine
Preheat oven to 475°F/250°C. Using a fork, smash the lavender, thyme, zest, salt and pepper into the butter until well mixed to create a compound butter. Pat the birds dry. Take a bird and very gently slide fingers between meat and skin to loosen the skin from the body (be careful not to tear the skin), both over the breast meat and the thigh. Take the compound butter and slide it up into the pockets of skin you have created over the breast but also making sure to also smear some butter over the thigh. You can tie the legs of each bird together or nestle them together snugly in the baking dish, preferably a flameproof one that is safe for your stovetop.
Cut one lemon in half and divide each half into quarters for a total of eight pieces. Stuff each bird with four pieces of lemon. (Using smaller pieces allows you to more effectively stuff the small cavity of the poussin). Take the second lemon, cut in half, and squeeze one half over both birds.
Roast birds in middle of oven 30 minutes (for poussins) to 45 minutes (for Cornish hens), or until an instant-read thermometer inserted in thickest part of a thigh (be careful not to touch bone) registers 170° F. Check after 25 minutes.
Put the roasted birds on a platter and loosely cover with foil to keep warm. Add Sauternes to roasting pan and put over moderate heat, deglazing the pan by scraping up the brown bits. Simmer until the liquid is reduced to a sauce. (If your roasting pan is not safe for the burner, transfer the chicken juices to a saucepan, then add the wine and simmer). Spoon over your poussins and serve.
Accompany your birds with roasted fingerling potatoes and crusty artisinal bread that can sop of the flavorful sauce.