Serves 6

This recipe, originally created for squab, works beautifully with Cornish game hens. The liver spread is a delicious accompaniment to the bird, but is not essential to the recipe. Serve the hens with potatoes or a watercress salad with a lemony vinaigrette. Note: the cherry sauce must be started 24 hours ahead.

For the cherry sauce (begin 24 hours in advance):

1 pound pitted dark sweet cherries, fresh or individually quick frozen, pitted

1 tablespoon sugar

½ cup cherry juice, or substitute cranberry juice

1/3 cup cider vinegar

1 teaspoon fine sea salt

1 teaspoon fennel seeds

1 teaspoon red pepper flakes

1 strip lemon zest

2 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled


For the Cornish hens:

6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Six 1-¼ to 1-½ lb Cornish hens, livers reserved and legs trussed

12 unpeeled garlic cloves

3 branches fresh thyme

Fine sea salt

Freshly ground black pepper


For the liver spread (optional)

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

Reserved livers from the hens

Fine sea salt

Freshly ground black pepper

Half a long, thin French baguette, cut in ¼” slices, toasted to light brown under the broiler


To prepare the cherry sauce (prepare 24 hours ahead):

Combine the cherries, sugar, cherry juice, cider vinegar and salt in a medium bowl, and stir to dissolve the sugar and salt. Cover with aluminum foil or a plate, and refrigerate for 24 hours to allow the ingredients to macerate.

Preheat the oven to 300°F. Combine the fennel seeds, pepper flakes and lemon zest in a small bowl, stirring well. Transfer the mixture to a tea ball, or wrap in a small cheesecloth sachet and tie with string; set aside. Place half of the marinated cherry mixture in a food processor and purée. Combine the purée, whole cherries, marinade liquid, bacon and the spice mixture in a medium ovenproof skillet or baking dish, cover and bake for one hour, stirring occasionally. Set aside.

To prepare the hens:

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Warm the olive oil over high heat in a large heavy-bottomed skillet. Working in batches, brown the hens on all sides, 5 to 7 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, transfer the hens to a large baking pan, or large baking sheet with 1″ sides. Baste with the warm olive oil from the skillet. Scatter the garlic cloves and thyme around the birds and bake, basting occasionally, in the center of the oven for 40 to 45 minutes, until the birds are a deep golden brown and the juices run clear when the thigh is pierced, or until the internal temperature of the thigh reaches 170°F.

Meanwhile, prepare the liver spread:

Melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat, add the livers, and stir to coat the livers well. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes, stirring frequently, until the livers are browned on all sides, then transfer to a medium bowl. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon of butter and mash well with a fork until smooth; season to taste with salt and pepper. Spread the warm mixture on slices of toasted baguette and set aside.

To serve

Place a hen on each of six serving plates. Scatter a few of the roasted garlic cloves on each plate, then spoon the cherry sauce around the hens. Garnish the plates with slices of toasted baguette with the liver spread, if you wish, and serve.

From Ducasse Made Simple by Sophie, Editions Alain Ducasse, 2008.

Originally published in the October 2008 issue of France Today