This recipe can be prepared with four Cornish game hens, about 1 pound each, two small chickens, about 2 to 2 1/2 pounds each, or one larger chicken, about 4 pounds. What is special about using Cornish hens is that each person gets their own bird. Seek out fresh Cornish hens, rather than ones in the frozen case. If time allows, brine the birds to add flavour throughout the meat. The finished dish can be served in individual bowls, gratin dishes or family style on a deep platter.
For the brine (if time allows): Combine the coarse salt and one gallon of water in a small Copper-Core stock pot. Cover and bring to a boil. Boil for about 1 minute, stirring to dissolve the salt. Remove from the heat and cool completely before using. Submerge the birds in the brine and refrigerate for 2 hours. Remove the birds from the brine, rinse and dry with paper towels. Discard the brine. If the birds have not been brined, sprinkle some salt in the cavity to season. Truss the birds with kitchen twine to maintain their shape while cooking. Let them sit at room temperature for 1 hour before cooking.
Meanwhile: Set aside 1/4 cup of the chicken stock. Pour the remaining stock into a large Copper-Core stock pot and add the potatoes. Place over medium heat to warm up slowly. It could take as long as an hour to begin to simmer.
While the soup heats, prepare the vegetables. Trim the root end of the leeks, but still leave it intact. Remove the outer leaf of the leeks and discard. Cut off and discard the very dark green leaves from the top of the leeks. Rinse the leeks well to remove any dirt. Cut each leek crosswise into 3 equal pieces, then wrap the pieces into bundles of 3 with a piece of twine to hold them together. Set aside.
With a pairing knife, score the root end of each pearl onion with an ‘X’ and set aside. Trim off the top and bottom ends of the carrots, then cut them on the diagonal into 2-inch sections. Set aside.
Trim off the top and bottom ends of the parsnips. Cut the parsnip crosswise into 2 inch sections. As the diameter of the parsnip increases, cut the sections in half lengthwise, and finally cut the widest section into more pieces, to keep all of the pieces approximately 2 inches long by 1/2 to 3/4 inches thick and as consistent in size as possible. Set aside.
Cut the swedes and turnips into 8 wedges each. If desired, use a pairing knife to trim the sharp edges for a smoother finish.
Cut the cabbage in half through the root end and discard any dark or wilted outer leaves. Trim the root end flush with the cabbage, and cut each half in half again, to give you 4 wedges. Set aside.
When the chicken stock comes to a simmer, add all the vegetables (except the cabbage), the bouquet garni and the butter, if desired. Simmer for 10 minutes, adjusting the heat as necessary to maintain a gentle simmer. Add the birds to the pot, breast side down, and the cabbage. The birds should just be covered with the liquid. If they are not, add a bit more stock or water. Rest the lid on the pot to cover about three-quarters of the pot.
Begin to time the birds when the stock returns to a simmer. Simmer the birds gently, adjusting the heat as necessary, then turn off the heat and let the birds rest in the hot stock.
Bird Size: 4 pound chicken, 2-2 1/2 pound chicken, 1-1 1/4 pound Cornish hen
Cooking Time: 25 minutes, 20 minutes, 15 minutes
Resting Time: 20 minutes, 15 minutes, 15 minutes
Turn the oven on to warm at the lowest temperature. With a skimmer or slotted spoon, carefully remove the vegetables and hens to a baking sheet and keep warm in the oven. Strain the stock through a fine mesh strainer. Place 5 cups of chicken stock in a medium sauce pan. Simmer to reduce to 3 cups. The remaining stock can be used for another purpose or frozen.
Meanwhile, whisk the cornflour into the reserved 1/4 cup of chicken stock. When the stock has reduced, whisk in the cornflour mixture and bring to a simmer to thicken the stock.
Arrange the vegetables in individual serving dishes, cutting the potatoes in half. Untie the leeks, and remove the outer layer. With a pair of poultry shears, cut off the end of the drumsticks and end of the wings. and remove the twine.
To serve the Cornish hens: place a hen in the centre of the vegetables. To serve the small chickens: cut each chicken in half and serve over the vegetables. To serve a large chicken: cut off the leg and thigh and cut through the joint to separate. Remove each side of the breast from the carcass and cut each piece in half on the diagonal. Arrange one piece of breast meat and one piece of dark meat in each bowl.
Spoon some of the thickened juices over the bird and vegetables and sprinkle with salt and fresh herbs if desired.