October: Game Hens Agrodolce

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Buon giorno!

Linda’s Italian Table raises a glass to 2 years sharing the joy of Italian cooking online. Join me in celebrating with this beautiful fall dish, GAME HENS AGRODOLCE. This dish is typical of Tuscan preparations for game offered down through the centuries. It is an incredibly delicious – lick your fingers – kind of dish with a bounty of flavor. Tuscan hunters often use the “agrodolce” (sour and sweet) method when cooking their game, using its  sweetness to mask the “gamey” essence of many forms of wild birds and animals.

This recipe calls for Cornish Game Hens – easy to find at any grocer – and needing no masking as they do not have a strong wild flavor. They are small, delicate, and fun to eat. They also make a lovely presentation for guests. I like to make 2 hens whether serving 2 or 4. Even if it’s a twosome, the leftovers are sooo good.

OK – before you tip-toe away looking for something “less complicated” – let me reel you back in. The secret here is that these little game hens are way too easy to make. No excuses for running away! It doesn’t get any easier than this. On the other hand, it will look like you’ve been slaving in the kitchen for days. My advice – let them think you did!

Making agrodolce dishes is a personal favorite Italian cooking choice for me, not only because they are so good, but also because my father, Attilio, was a WIZARD at making them. Whenever he cooked his game (which he hunted and dressed himself), I wanted to be around to watch (and taste). It was always an event involving tantalizing aromas, seductively delicious tastings, and splendidly well chosen red wine. I always anticipated learning which fruit he might include his masterpiece. The dishes provided visual delight and an always memorable dining experience for me and any fortunate others who might be hanging around the kitchen that day.



Serves: 4

Prep: 25 minutes

Cook: 30


2 Rock Cornish Game Hens

4 Tbsp Olive Oil

1/4 c. Salt Pork – chopped

2 Cloves Fresh Garlic – chopped finely

2 Whole Shallots – chopped

3/4 c. Dry Red Wine

2 Tbsp. Balsamic Vinegar

2 Tsp. Sugar

2 Tbsp. Fresh Rosemary – chopped

2 Tsp. Fresh Thyme Leaves – chopped

2 Tsp. Orange Zest

1 1/2 C. Dried Cherries – whole

Kosher Salt and Freshly Ground Black Pepper to taste


Prepare your ingredients.

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Clean hens, pat dry.

Using poultry shears or sharp scissors, cut the hens in half, lengthwise. Lay the halves down and flatten them with a mallet or a heavy can of something like tomatoes!

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Salt and pepper the hen halves on both sides.

Brown the halves in the olive oil. Just brown them – don’t attempt to cook through.

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Remove the halves to a platter and reserve.

In the same pan, saute the salt pork, garlic, shallots for a couple of minutes.

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Add the hen halves back to the pan and add the wine, rosemary, thyme, vinegar, sugar, zest and cherries. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Cook a couple minutes, turning the hens.

Place pan in 350 degree oven, uncovered, for about 15-20 minutes until cooked through. This does not take long. Turn the hen halves halfway through cooking.

If the pan begins to dry, add a little water.

When finished, taste sauce for seasoning.

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This recipe does not make a lot of sauce – just enough to spoon over the hens.

Serving: GAME HENS AGRODOLCE  is one dish just made to serve over polenta, as you see in the photo. However, it is also lovely with red skin mashed potatoes. You will love this great fall Tuscan dish! Attilio would have served the hens with his beloved Valpolicella Ripasso. The more adventurous might consider a Brunello di Montalcino which is often served with heavier meat dishes. This dish with its earthy and deep flavors will stand up well to the Brunello.

While you enjoy this dish, you might tip a glass to the third year for Linda’s Italian Table which is just beginning. I will definitely be toasting to YOU!


Comments are welcome in the “Speak Your Mind Area” beneath this post online.



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  1. Delicious !
    I love a recipe that uses Michigan dried cherries.
    Mmm Cornish game hens a so tender.
    Comfort food for a fall evening.

  2. Dear Linda… I just happened to find your website. I make granita di cafe con panne., but I some times put a little vanilla ice cream and brandy in it. However I am intriged by your receipes.

    I am very happy to find you and will continue to try your receipes, I love also your little stories about your Dad and family. I too, come from Italian home. Of course I am much older than you. Probably as old or older than your Dad.

    Thank you so ooo much. Isabel