Grilled Cornish Game Hens with Lemon, Sumac, and Date Relish

This simple barbeque is made super special with the date relish. Get a spoon out, you will want to take a snack before the game hens are done.

Beth, my good friend and cooking partner, found this recipe in the August 2008 edition of Bon Apetite.   I fell in love with it but had to put my own touches on it.  I used my version of brine which adds a bit of sugar and changed up the date salsa, swapping cilantro for the parsley and walnuts for the pine nuts.  I used walnut oil to give the salsa an extra nut kick.  Beth always uses habanero chiles but my main supermarket does not carry them, so I used Serrano peppers instead with great results.  You can view the blog post associated with this recipe by clicking here.

Serves 8

8 cups water
1 cup fresh lemon juice, divided
½  cup kosher salt
¼ cup sugar
4 Cornish game hens, cut lengthwise in half, backbone removed
1/2 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons ground sumac
4 garlic cloves, peeled

Combine the water, 1/2 cup lemon juice, salt and sugar in large nonreactive pot; whisk until the salt and sugar melt.  Add hen halves and press to submerge. Refrigerate hens in brine, weighing down with heavy plate if needed, at least 6 hours and up to 1 day.

Whisk 1/2 cup lemon juice, oil, and sumac in a bowl large enough to hold the hens. Press in garlic cloves; season with pepper. Let dressing stand 15 minutes to thicken slightly, whisking occasionally.

Drain hens. Pat dry with paper towels and place in the bowl with the lemon marinade.   Mix the hens with the marinade and let sit at room temperature at least 30 minutes, up to 2 hours.

Prepare barbecue (medium-high heat). Place hens, skin side up, on grill rack.  Cover and grill until bottom sides are brown, about 8 minutes. Turn hens over; grill uncovered until skin sides brown, about 6 minutes.  Continue to grill until hens are cooked through, turning occasionally, about 9 minutes longer.  Transfer hens to platter. Serve with Date Relish.

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