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Sort of Like Chicken, But Better

December 20, 1990|MINNIE BERNARDINO and DONNA DEANE | TIMES FOOD STYLISTS

CORNISH HEN DINNER Five-Spice Hen Crispy Noodle Salad Almond cookies or macaroons Hot tea The little Cornish hen may not have the size of its chicken brethren, but it's tasty and delicate, and it sits beautifully on any plate.

Until recently, the hens were available only in the frozen meat case and consequently required long hours of thawing. But now you can buy them fresh. This makes it all the easier to get away from the old roast-and-stuff-it routine. Zapped in bubbling hot oil, the flesh is juicy and tender. Add the sweetish flavorings of Chinese five-spice powder, plus a hint of minced ginger and garlic.

If you have a great big wok or deep-fryer large enough hold the bird covered in hot oil, cook the hens whole. Otherwise, cut the bird in half (or ask the butcher to do this for you) and fry the two halves. A half bird seems to be an ample serving for many people, particularly if you're worried about calories. The cooked hens may be kept warm in a 300-degree oven until the remaining pieces are done.

If deep-frying is too messy for you, bake the seasoned birds at 400 degrees for 10 minutes then reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees and roast for 40 minutes longer or until tender. We cannot guarantee the same results with this method, however.

FIVE-SPICE HEN

WITH CRISPY NOODLE SALAD Staples

2 cloves garlic

1 small piece ginger root

Salt, pepper

Oil for deep-frying

1 teaspoon soy sauce

Shopping List 2 Cornish hens

1 small jar Chinese five-spice powder

1 package rice sticks or mai-fun noodles

1 small bottle Italian dressing

1 small bottle sesame oil

1 head iceberg lettuce, optional

1. Rinse 2 Cornish hens and pat dry with paper towels. Cut in halves lengthwise (or quarters if desired).

2. Mince 2 cloves garlic. Peel 1 small piece ginger root and mince to 1 teaspoon measure.

3. Rub hens with garlic, ginger and 1/2 teaspoon Chinese five-spice powder. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

4. Heat oil in wok or deep-fryer to 375 degrees. Fry hens until golden brown, about 15 minutes. Keep warm in 300-degree oven.

5. Fry 1/2 package rice sticks, handful at time, in remaining hot oil just until white and puffy. Remove with slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Place in bowl and toss with 1/4 cup Italian dressing, 1 teaspoon soy sauce and 1 teaspoon sesame oil. Toss in 1 cup shredded crisp iceberg lettuce if desired.

6. Serve fried Cornish hens with crispy noodle salad and garnish with cucumber slices if desired. Makes 2 to 4 servings.

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