A Belgian Delicacy Built for Chardonnay: Waterzooi of Game Hen

Vanessa made this dish inspired by a pile of vibrant looking leeks and a passel of plump game hens. I like game hen better than chicken because it has a deeper, more intense flavor. You could use chicken thighs, however. One slight improvement would be to brine the bird for a few hours to enhance the tender, sumptuous and flavorful nature of the dish.

To Brine:

2 game hens, 1 ½ to 1 ¾ pounds each

2/3 cup salt

1/3 cup sugar

1 teaspoon coriander seed

1 teaspoon fennel seed

Heat a couple cups of water, a cup of white wine or vermouth, coriander and fennel seeds and dissolve the sugar and salt in a pot that will just hold the birds. Turn off the heat when the water reaches 170 degrees F and stir to dissolve the sugar and salt. Cool back to below 120 degrees F by stirring in ice. Add birds to brine. If they are not covered by the brine add more water. Let sit at room temperature for 2-4 hours.

To Prepare Hens:

2 medium carrots, trimmed, peeled

2 medium leeks, tender interior only, cleaned

1 ½ teaspoons fresh tarragon, minced

1 Bay leaf

1 ½ cups Vermouth or white wine

1 ½ cups chicken broth

Julienne the carrots and leeks into 1 ½ inch strips and toss with the tarragon and bay leaf and salt and pepper. Strew a third of the vegetable mix on the bottom of a covered casserole. Drain the game hen and quarter, then place in the casserole and cover with remaining vegetable mix. Pour in the wine and enough chicken broth to barely cover. Bring to a simmer, cover, and simmer slowly for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the hens are done (juices run clear when pricked). Let the hens steep in cooking liquid for 10 to 15 minutes.

To Prepare Sauce:

5 egg yolks

½ cup heavy cream

½ Tablespoon of cornstarch

3 Tablespoons fresh broadleaf parsley

Optional: shreds of chard, one small bunch, sautéed in 1 tsp of olive oil

Whisk the yolks and cream in a mixing bowl with the cornstarch. Gradually whisk in the drained hot cooking broth. Pour it over the game hens. A few minutes before serving, set the casserole over moderate heat and swirl slowly until the sauce is heated through and thickens. Don’t overheat or you will curdle the egg yolks! Ladle hens, vegetables and sauce in wide, shallow bowls, on top of small boiled potato halves (and chard if using).

Tip: You may also wish to skin the hens before saucing and remove meat from the bones but neither is necessary.

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