On the Third Day of Christmas... Cooking Through the Twelve Days of Christmas

On the third day of Christmas my true love gave to me...

Three game hens (with honey-mead-apricot glaze)

Two chocolate date-nut turtles

And a winter green salad on a roasted pear tree!

Roasted game hens are such a sweet alternative to chicken or turkey during the holiday season. For small dinner parties, everyone gets their own little hen which makes it ultra-special. You can do everything (and more) that you do with a chicken. More because you don't need to worry about the stuffing—the hens are so small the stuffing inside cooks through, basting in the scrumptious drippings the entire cooking time.

I love to make a wild rice stuffing cooked in chicken stock with dried cranberries and apricots, pecans, and port wine. Cornbread stuffing works great too. Make sure to have some extra stuffing warmed to serve on the side—it's a small cavity inside these little hens and a generous serving of stuffing is warranted. Also... I wouldn't dream of serving any holiday dish without homemade cranberry sauce.

Pick hens that are pretty much the same weight and size so that cook-time is equal and they look uniform for serving.


Mead is said to be the ancestor of all alcoholic beverages. It was a beloved drink for the Vikings, and often comes out at Yuletide because it goes so well with rich, heavy foods. As a marinade or basting liquid, mead is sweet but tangy and has a distinctively festive flavor that pairs beautifully with both Turkish apricots and foul in general. The honey and apricots give the breast meat a sweet golden-brown crispness.

4 Cornish game hens

1-2 tablespoons duck fat or butter, for basting


1 1/4 cup mead (honey wine)

1/3 cup honey

10-12 dried Turkish apricots, soaked in water to cover for several minutes

1/8 teaspoon ground allspice

dash ground cloves

Sea salt

Several sprigs of fresh thyme

Pomegranate arils

Throw all marinade ingredients into a food processor and blend until pureed. Wash the hens and place them into a bowl large enough to hold all four hens plus the marinade. Pour the sauce over and allow to marinate for several hours or overnight. Now is the time to make your stuffing. You can let that sit overnight too—the flavors will develop and will be even better the next day.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Reserving the marinade, remove the hens from the marinade and place them on a roasting pan or sheet pan with a rack. (I use a cookie cooling rack on top of a sheet pan. Works great!) Make sure the hens aren't touching; you don't want them to steam-cook. Stuff the hens. Fun Tip: Seal the stuffing in with an apple slice, an onion slice or a bread slice. Truss the legs and wings with cooking twine. Dental floss works in a pinch! Sprinkle the hens with a little sea salt.

Set the timer for 20 minutes and place the hens into the preheated oven.

Pour the marinade into a medium saucepan set over medium heat. Bring to a simmer then reduce the heat to low. Stir in 1-2 tablespoons duck fat or butter and a sprinkling of the fresh thyme leaves. At the 20 minute mark, baste the hens with the marinade using a basting brush or a spoon (the apricots will make it a little too thick for a baster). Baste every 10 minutes, turning the pan each time to ensure even browning, for 40 additional minutes. The hens should cook for a total of 60+ minutes, or until a thermometer in the thigh reads 165 degrees.

Remove the truss and apple slices. Let the hens sit a few minutes before garnishing with fresh thyme leaves and pomegranate arils. Remaining sauce can be served on the side as gravy.