Wild Cornish Hens with Local Mushrooms and Okra Kabobs

A top down view of two plates holding cooked Cornish hens and okra kabobs.

A Taste of Wild - Blue Ridge Mountains

Jon and Aubrey return back east to visit Jon's family in North Carolina, cooking up all of his favorite Southern-inspired meals from his time growing up in the South.

Wild Cornish Hens with Local Mushrooms and Okra Kabobs

Aubrey and I have spent a lot of time on the road together. I mean a LOT. It’s nobody’s fault, but sometimes when you're road tripping with one person so much, you can get into a bit of a rut, especially in the kitchen. But tonight, as the sun’s coming down, there’s a little magic in the air, and we found some game hens at the market. I believe a date night is in order.

Due to its diverse terrain and proximity to the Appalachian Mountains, North Carolina boasts some of the best bird hunting in the Southeast. Grouse, pheasant, quail and wild turkeys are just a few of the most popular. And while Cornish hens aren’t typically hunted in this part of the United States, they are relatively easy to find, delicious to cook with and have a rich, meaty taste—a flavor profile that is comparable to wild quail or partridge. Plus, Cornish hens are a great way to ease into the world of wild game cooking (before you jump in and cook an entire wild turkey).

Originally from England, Cornish hens are young female chickens who aren’t known for their egg production, so they’re raised for meat instead. They are typically much smaller than your average chicken, maxing out at around two pounds. Their small size and adolescence ends up making the meat moist and tender, and they’re the perfect portion for an individual meal. Opt for wild Cornish hens when you can, as their diet is more natural and gives the meat a stronger flavor. And since our recipe requires roasting the hens over an open flame, we recommend splitting each bird in half (often referred to as “butterflying” or “spatchcocking”) to help cook them quicker and more evenly. Don’t be afraid to season each hen generously. I use a mix of coriander, brown sugar and Cajun seasoning to help balance the gaminess of the hens.

To further enhance the natural game flavor, I’ve chosen to serve the hens with mushroom and okra kabobs. Both mushrooms and okra are grown in abundance throughout the Carolinas, and add an incredible savoriness to the meal. Try to look for chanterelle, morels or oyster mushrooms—but if you can’t find any of those, cremini mushrooms also work well. For the okra, make sure it is completely dry before cooking to help eliminate any of the sliminess that can sometimes form upon cooking.

Both the hens and the kabobs are cooked over a hot, open flame—giving the entire dish an added smokiness. To balance the flavors, feel free to serve this meal alongside some creamy grits or buttery mashed potatoes. I guarantee both hunters and gatherers alike will enjoy it.

Wild Cornish Hens with Local Mushrooms and Okra Kabobs

Wild Cornish Hens with Local Mushrooms and Okra Kabobs

Yield: 2-4 servings
Prep: 20 minutes Cooking: 30 minutes

Cornish hens ingredients:

  • 1-2 Cornish hens, cut in half (Note: If you buy Cornish hens at the store, they tend to come in a 2-pack, but one hen will feed two people, and two hens will feed four.)
  • Vegetable oil (as needed)
  • 1 tablespoon Cajun seasoning 
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon coriander
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon brown sugar
  • 3 sprigs of thyme, with leaves removed from stem

Kabob ingredients:

  • 1 teaspoon salt 
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • ¼ cup vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • ½ cup mushrooms, halved
  • ½ cup pearl onions 
  • 1 cup okra, whole

Assembly:

  • Hamburger buns
  • Coleslaw

Cooking Tools

  • 2 small bowls
  • 8 skewers (if they’re wooden, make sure they’re soaked in water)
  • Cutting board
  • Knife
  • Kitchen shears (optional)
  • Grill or BBQ grate
  • Measuring cups and spoons
  • Pastry brush

Method

  1. In a small bowl, combine the Cajun seasoning, black pepper, salt, coriander, garlic powder and brown sugar.
  2. To split the Cornish hens in half, use a sharp knife or kitchen shears to cut down one side of the backbone. Open the hen up and then cut it in half through the middle of the breast. Repeat for each hen.
  3. Rub each hen with vegetable oil and the spice mixture. Sprinkle with the thyme leaves.
  4. Place the hens skin-side down on a grill over an open flame, cooking for 12 minutes. Flip the hens over and cook on the other side for another 12 minutes.
  5. For the kabobs, start by slicing each garlic clove in half and extracting the inner stem. Cover the cloves with salt and give them a rough chop. Then, using the sharp part of your knife, scrap the salted garlic against the cutting board until it forms a paste.
  6. Once you have the garlic paste, add it to a small bowl and mix with the vegetable oil and black pepper.
  7. To assemble the kabobs, start by piercing the skewer through a mushroom, then an onion, followed by an okra. Repeat this order until you have about two inches of skewer left on one side. 
  8. Once all the skewers are full, brush them with the garlic oil mixture and place over an open flame. Cook until the vegetables are tender and slightly charred, about 3-4 minutes each side.
  9. Serve the hens and kabobs together on a plate with a side of grits or mashed potatoes.

Jon and Aubrey made their latest trip in a 2021 Thor Motor Coach Sanctuary.

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