Serves: Makes 2 to 4 servings
- 2 (11⁄4 pounds each) cornish hens
- 4 cups water
- coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1⁄2 cup dry white wine
- 2⁄3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
- 2 tablespoons torn fresh basil leaves
- 2 tablespoons torn fresh mint leaves
- 2 cloves garlic, grated or finely chopped
- Working with 1 hen at a time, and using kitchen scissors or poultry shears, cut along either side of backbone and remove. Turn the hen skin side up on a work surface and press down hard with the heel of your hand to flatten the breast and loosen the keel bone. (This is the slightly curved bone that separates the breasts.) locate the keel bone and pull it free with your fingers. Twist and pull each leg until it pops out of its socket. With the scissors, remove the first and second sections of the wings; cut off the neck, if it's still attached; and trim away any extra skin and clumps of fat. repeat with the second hen.
- in a bowl large enough to hold the birds, combine the water and 2 tablespoons of the salt and stir to dissolve the salt. Add the hens, turn to rinse with the salted water, and let stand for 10 minutes. Drain well and pat dry.
- Rub the hens generously with salt and pepper. Place the hens in a large, clean bowl and add the wine, 1⁄3 cup of the olive oil, the lemon zest and juice, and the basil, mint, and garlic. Turn to coat the hens. Cover and marinate the hens in the refrigerator for 1 to 2 hours. remove from the refrigerator 30 minutes before cooking to bring to room temperature.
- Add the remaining 1⁄3 cup of the olive oil to the bottom section of a mattone or panini pan and heat over medium heat for about 5 minutes, or until the oil is very hot but not smoking. Meanwhile, lift the hens from the marinade, reserving the marinade, and place on a platter. With fingertips, gently lift the breast and leg skin away from the flesh of the hens to form pockets. With a skimmer or perforated spoon, lift some of the chopped herb and lemon mixture from the marinade and spread the herb mixture under the skin.
- When the oil is hot, add the hens, skin side down, to the pan. Cover with the lid and cook, adjusting the heat between medium and medium-low as needed to maintain a steady sizzle, for 15 minutes. lift the lid and, with tongs or a flat metal spatula, turn the hens over. Cook for 10 minutes longer. lift the lid again, turn the hens skin side down, and cook for 5 minutes more, or until the juices run clear when the hens are pierced in the leg with the tines of a fork.
- Transfer the hens to a platter and let stand for 5 minutes before serving. Using a chef's knife, divide the hens into leg and breast portions and serve.