Spatchcocked Game Hen with Grilled Peach-Piñon Mole

Game birds from nearby Dewberry Hills Farm are briefly brined, then split, skewered, seasoned and slow-roasted over a wood fire.  Served with a mole of grilled peaches, toasted pine nuts, rich stock and ancho chiles..

Spatchcocked Game Hen with Grilled Peach-Piñon Mole

For the Brine

1/3 cup kosher or coarse sea salt
1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns
2 cloves garlic, peeled and bruised
1 teaspoon cracked cumin seeds
1-2 small, dry bay leaves, cracked
3 quarts cold, filtered water

Combine all ingredients together in a container large enough to hold the birds and brine.  Stir to dissolve salt, then submerge birds in brine (1 quart per pound of food), cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes per pound (90 minutes for 3 pounds of food).  Remove from refrigerator, drain and transfer birds to an uncovered flat container and return to the refrigerator until the skin is completely dry, about 2 hours.

To Spatchcock and Grill the Birds

Spatchcock is an 18th-century phrase used to indicate a summary way of grilling a bird after splitting it open down the back and spreading the two halves out flat, the point of which is to reduce cooking time and to help ensure a moist, evenly-cooked result.

Use a heavy kitchen scissors to remove the backbone, then turn the bird over and crack open like a book.  Use a small knife to separate the diamond shaped keel (breast bone) from the muscle, then use your fingers to pull the bone free from the carcass.  Use pairs of skewers to pierce the skin side of the breast, tucking the ends under the wings to hold in place.  Lightly season inside and out with cracked pepper, coriander, garlic, etc.

Place the splayed birds skin side down on a hot, lightly oiled grill.  Cook without moving until the meat releases itself from the grate and the skin is well marked and has begun to crisp.  Move the birds to the slow side of the grill (skin side up), cover and roast until the juices run clear, about 30-40 minutes depending on temperature, etc.

For the Mole (adapted from a recipe by Rick Bayless)

2-3 fresh peaches, split, pitted and grilled until slightly charred and caramelized
1/4 cup sesame seeds, toasted
1/4 cup pork lard
6 dried ancho chilies, stemmed, seeded, and chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled
1/3 cup pine nuts
3 cups homemade chicken stock
1/4 teaspoon canela (Mexican cinnamon)
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 pinch ground cloves
1/2 ounce Mexican bitter chocolate, chopped
1 fresh flour tortilla, darkly toasted and roughly chopped
1 tablespoon palm sugar or piloncillo
sea salt to taste

Using a spoon, remove the juice and pulp of each grilled peach half, set aside in a medium bowl, and discard the skins.

Add the sesame seeds and set aside.  In a heavy skillet, heat the lard over medium heat.  Add the chilies and fry until lightened in color, about 30 seconds, turning constantly.

Remove the chilies while keeping pan hot.  Place the chilies in a chilled water bath, cover with a small plate to submerge, and set aside for 30 minutes.  Add the garlic to the hot pan and saute until golden brown and tender, about five minutes.

Using a slotted spoon, transfer the garlic to the peach mixture and maintain a hot pan.  Toast the pine nuts in the pan until golden brown, about two minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the pine nuts to the peach mixture.  Remove the pan from the heat and set aside.  Strain the chilies through a fine mesh sieve, reserving the water and chilies separately.

In a blender puree the chilies and half of the reserved liquid until smooth, about two minutes.  Strain through a fine mesh sieve, discarding the pulp.  In the same blender, puree the peach mixture, one cup of the chicken stock, cinnamon, black pepper, cloves, chocolate, and tortilla until smooth, about two minutes.  Strain through a fine mesh sieve (optional; I left mine a little more rustic) and set aside.

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, saute the chili pepper puree until dark and thick, about 10 minutes.  Add the peach mixture and simmer to form a thick paste, about seven minutes.  Add the remaining stock, partially cover, and simmer until the mix is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, about 45 minutes.  Remove from the heat, season, and set aside keeping warm.

To Assemble

Allow the grilled game hens to rest on a cutting board for 10 minutes until carving into half inch thick cross sections.  Lade mole onto serving plate, arranging slices of bird on top.  Garnish with additional sesame seeds and fresh parsley or cilantro and serve immediately.

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Mango Mole (Sauce)

Adapted from a recipe in Bon Appétit magazine (via Edible Therapy), this complex sauce is fantastic with pickled red onions and grilled pork chops..

Making Mango Mole

Making Mango Mole

2 tablespoons leaf lard or other fat
1 large plantain, sliced
1 cup fresh diced mango
2 large dried Guajillo or Ancho chilies, stems and seeds removed
1/2 cup chopped white onion
12 whole raw almonds
1 tablespoon homemade chili base
2 tablespoons shelled peanuts
2 tablespoons white sesame seeds
2 large garlic cloves, chopped
1 small bay leaf
1 small bunch fresh thyme
1/4 teaspoon freshly-ground pepper
1 teaspoon true cinnamon shards
2 cups homemade chicken stock, more or less
1 small piece Mexican chocolate

Heat the fat in a large skillet over medium heat. Add plantains, chili base and everything else except stock and chocolate.  Sauté until plantain is soft, about 5 minutes.

Add 1 1/2 cups chicken stock.  Reduce heat and simmer until chilies are tender, about 15 minutes.

Puree sauce in blender then return to skillet.

Add chocolate and stir until incorporated.  Thin with reserved stock if necessary, then season to taste with sea salt and black pepper.

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