Poussins (or Cornish Hens) à la Russe

Peter Kaminsky in Culinary Intelligence shows us how healthy eating, without compromising the fun and pleasure in food, can be done: thinking before eating, choosing good ingredients, understanding how flavor works and making the effort to cook. Cooking is part of the equation, but ingredients always come first.

This recipe exemplifies that the path to truly healthful and enjoyable diet begins with great ingredients. Take the poussins (young chickens weighing about 1 to 1 1/2 lb). Season them with salt and spices, cook over medium heat on the stove top until browned, for no more than 25 minutes, depending on the size of the birds. You are rewarded to the most incredibly juicy, tender and delicious chicken you’ll ever taste. Hands down.

This poussins à la Russe recipe comes from Jacques Pèpin, in the Russian style. It does not require a long list of ingredients. Just the best ingredients, the poussins. Free-range and premium quality. Rub the poussins with paprika, salt, cumin, cayenne pepper and olive oil. The poussins I bought weigh about 10 oz., good to serve one. All skin, bones and meat. No hints of fat. They are much smaller than the 1 1/2 lb called for in the recipe. Hence, the cooking time was reduced to less than 10-15 minutes in a cast-iron pan. Don’t watch the clock. Let the color and texture on the bird inform you whether the meat is cooked through or not. (For bigger birds, once the skin has browned, I would transfer the bird (in the cast-iron pan) into a 350°F oven to finish cooking, until the internal temperature reaches 152°F.) I did not cut the bird in halves, the way Pèpin prepared his; they were so tiny to begin with. I kept them spread out like a butterfly.

They were very tender and succulent and fun to pull apart with your fingers. Forks and knives are optional. These poussins exult the true meaning of tender to the bone. Don’t we crave tenderness, warmth, comfort and nourishment. This dish satisfies at all levels. It also begs the question: “Is it going out to eat or coming home?”

Poussin, butterflied, pan roasted, served with pan sauce and chives


Note: I told my friend H about this recipe. Her first question was: “Where do I get poussins?” I get baby chickens from the local farmers’ markets, but they don’t always have the smaller ones I want. One reliable source where I have used for years is D’Artagnan, the same place where Tom Keller or David Burke buys. (FYI: I have no connection with this supplier, other than being a customer.)

I’m linking this post to IHCC, where we are featuring Jacques Pèpin’s recipes this week. Please check to see what other homecooks are making. There are so many to choose from, given his long and illustrious career. Heart and Soul in the Kitchen is his latest book published last year.

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  • Reply
    September 18, 2016 at 8:36 pm

    Good, top-notch, quality ingredients is half the battle when it comes to serving great food. So glad you were able to score some poussin from your Farmer's Market. They certainly look succulent and juicy and oh so satisfying. The seasonings are perfect!

  • Reply
    Grace Phua
    September 26, 2016 at 3:16 am

    It's a pity we never get poussins over here. We only get kampong chicken (free range chicken) or just normal chickens. I love how beautifully crisp and browned your poussin looks 🙂 Definitely very good for a dinner with some salad for sure!

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