We all want to be somebody, don’t we? Especially when we’re kids. We want to show we can do things on our own. Be useful. Have purpose. Be our own person. Though as parents, that makes our interaction with our children sometimes difficult, I have such empathy for this basic human need. Kids want to be their own person, like we all do. This longing often translates in the desire to be older. “I want to do what the big kids do.” “I want to be a grown-up.” But if this desire is too consuming, our children might miss enjoying what, as grown-ups, we long to get back to and reconnect with (and so often, through food): childhood. It is such an irony of life, isn’t it?
As a parent, I really want to find ways to make my son feel like he is his own person, capable of doing many things on his own, so that he may hopefully expand more energy being a kid and enjoying childhood. Now, what does this have to do with Cornish game hen, you ask? Well, it gives me one more way to do just that.
As I was brainstorming some recipes from my childhood with my mother, I remembered with great fondness the “poussins” or “coquelets” (young chicken, or Cornish game hen) she would make me. I would get so excited when I knew she was cooking that for me. Why such excitement? Because I was going to get my very own little chicken! Just for me. My size. It fulfilled both longings: to be my own person, because I got my own chicken. But to still be a kid, because it’s small and fun somehow. My dear mother went out of her way throughout my childhood to do this for me. At three years old, I would get my own oysters at Christmas. (She would cut one oyster in four pieces and divide it up in four shells, so I wouldn’t devour a dozen oysters, which I absolutely would have done.) So I felt grown-up because I had my very own, but still excited like a kid, because it’s so fun to eat them with your fingers and drink out of the shell. All little things to make me feel… important, I suppose.
It is such a wonderful thing to do for our children: acknowledge that need in any way possible, that need to be somebody. Somebody important enough to get their very own chicken. And to attempt to reconcile that longing for growing up with the enjoyment of childhood.
In this exploration of the education of taste, I am discovering many angles. Ways to get children to be interested, enjoy, appreciate and value good food. Ways to get children to be open-minded about food from around the world (with a direct link to an interest in other cultures, which is such a crucial value.) Ways to use food to achieve other learning and development, sensory experience, family connection and friendship around a table, a love of the earth and its fruits, the art of anticipation and enjoying a process, a flexibility in the face of new things, and so many others.
And sometimes, food can also be a way to give our children that feeling of independence and importance and fun all at once – with healthy gourmet food. By believing them perfectly capable to appreciate fine cuisine (perhaps even more than we are, they have way more taste buds than we do), we show them they are important and make them feel empowered. By being creative and making it fun, we allow them to embrace childhood (and we get to reconnect with the child within at the same time!)
Now, Cornish game hen does indeed taste a lot like chicken ;-), but with a very delicate, more subtle flavor. This is adapted from the classic recipe of “Poulet à l’estragon” (Tarragon Chicken), but cooked the way my mother likes to cook all poultry: in a Dutch oven (the same one she’s had for 40 years!) to keep the meat very moist and tender and concentrate all the flavors.
Cornish game hen (Poussins) with tarragon
Age: This is a dish for the whole family, but you can start at 8-12 months. Depending on your child’s motor skills, give meat as finger food or puree it, or for an older toddler, hand him/her the drumstick as above!
Recipe for 3 people
Cornish game hens / Young chicken – 1 per person
Half a stick of butter, semi-soft
A few sprigs of fresh tarragon
3 tbsp of olive oil
For the sauce:
1 egg yolk
½ cup of heavy cream
Wash and cut up the tarragon leaves with scissors. “Massage” the tarragon into the butter – I used my fingers to do it, though a fork would do as well.
Place a walnut of tarragon butter inside the game hens. Rub the rest of the tarragon butter all over them.
Put some olive oil in a Dutch oven, and brown the game hens on all sides, until golden.
Add ¼ cup of water to the bottom of the Dutch oven, cover and cook for about 40 minutes, until the meat is done. Remove the game hens and set aside.
The sauce: Put some ice cubs in a strainer, over a pan or bowl. Pour the cooking juices over the ice (this is to take out the excess grease, which should stick to the ice). Pour the cooking juices back into the Dutch oven, scraping the bits at the bottom. Over low heat, whisk in the egg yolk and the cream, with some fresh cut up tarragon, for 2-3 minutes max.
A note on the sauce: It is there to complement the delicate flavor of the meat, it should definitely not “drench” the meat. I gave very little of it to my son, just to taste.
You can serve this, for example, with a creamy polenta, or as above, a baby bok choy puree.