Sometimes it stems out of procrastination, other times it comes on from sheer hunger, but we can all relate to that moment in the day — oftentimes a wonderful escape — when we stop what we’re doing and start daydreaming about what we’re going to have for lunch and dinner, letting those cravings sink deep into our tummies.
It’s also that moment we realize nothing else will do — sorry leftovers, you’ll have to wait till tomorrow.
I don’t know about you, but most of my common cravings are easy to obtain at an eatery around the corner — pizza, Japanese curry, spam musubi, you’re mine. But the other day, I had one of those out-of-the-blue hankerings for something I haven’t eaten in a while, but have the fondest memories of. That, my friends, was Cornish game hen. I’ll never forget the first time my mom cooked it for us when I was a spring chicken myself, and despite the small size of this piece of poultry, it was like all the succulence of roasted chicken had been magnified into a richer, tastier meat with a glorified golden skin I still fantasize about to this day.
Seeing as Cornish game hen is not something you see on a menu every day, I set out to find some savory renditions to soothe my cravings, and much to my surprise and delight, I didn’t have to look very far.
FRENCH FAVE WITH A LAOTIAN TWIST
There’s only one place on Oahu where you can find a unique fusion of French cuisine with Southeast Asian accents of Laotian and Thai flavors. This intriguing blend is available to diners at JJ Bistro & French Pastry via chef and owner JJ Luangkhot, who is originally from Laos, but spent time learning European cooking techniques in New York before moving to the Islands in the early ’90s.
Baked Classic Hen ($16.95) is one dish that perfectly represents Chef JJ’s distinct culinary style. To create it, he took inspiration from traditional roasted chicken with rosemary, an entree commonly served in French restaurants, and put his own spin on it. Rather than using a single chicken breast, he opted to showcase Cornish hen, which, because of its petite size, allows him to serve various cuts of meat — breast, wing and drumstick — on one plate.
And this more exclusive meat, of course, is not too shabby. “The meat itself is very tasty — the flavor is there,” says Luangkhot, who plays it up by first marinating the hen, then slowly roasting it with butter for optimal tenderness.
When it comes to the seasoning, the chef keeps the rosemary classic in a creamy sauce, but adds Laotian herbs, including lemon grass, Chinese parsley and garlic, to the marinade. And on the side? Mashed potatoes speckled with peas and red peppers.
Customers receive half of a Cornish hen when they order this entree, making it just the right individual portion for lunch or dinner.
JJ Bistro & French Pastry
3447 Waialae Ave., Kaimuki
A LITTLE CHICKEN GOES A LONG WAY
The team at Little Village Noodle House knows how to put an upscale touch on its signature menu of bold Northern-style Chinese cuisine, including using Cornish hen as opposed to regular chicken.
According to general manager and partner David Chang, the eatery has been using the smaller, younger hybrid breed of chicken since day one, long before it was common to do so at home and in restaurants. He adds that Cornish hen has been the restaurant’s choice meat for 15 years because it is very tender when cooked.
Enjoy this prime poultry three ways at Little Village. Each presentation is priced at $12.95 and features the whole hen — an ideal option for family-style dining. Crispy Cornish Hen, for starters, offers a Hong Kong-style fried preparation, complete with drool-worthy crispy skin. And rather than overpowering the naturally delicious flavor of the meat, this selection is all about simplicity and technique.
“I always find that with food, the simpler, the better. Just make sure you season it right, prepare it right, and you’ve got it done,” says Chang, adding that freshness is another key factor.
Of course, the restaurant knows how to go big with flavor as well, especially in Shoyu Cornish Hen. The dish highlights the chef’s special sweet-and-savory soy sauce spotted with bay leaf, star anise and Chinese five-spice powder, among other flavorings. Little Village — which prides itself on cooking with healthy ingredients and not using MSG — also puts this soy marinade to good use in Smoked Cornish Hen, a more robust dish thanks to the open-flame grill the meat is cooked on.
Little Village Noodle House
1113 Smith St., Chinatown