Poussin (or coquelet) is the French word for a young chicken, in English they are also know as cornish hens. These birds can either be male or female and are less than 28 days old, as opposed to the 42 days of a regular chicken. The weight should be between 400-450 grams or 14-16 ounces, but sometimes they can also be sold weighing up to 750 grams or 26 ounces — though I’ve never seen one that big.
Where I live these birds aren’t as expensive they might be in some other countries, lucky for us. We don’t eat them often but they are a nice special treat once in a great while. The chicken is so small that they are the perfect serving for one person. Since they are so young there is hardly any fat, but that doesn’t mean that the meat is dry — it’s actually quite tender. I like to roast poussin with plenty of spices, this time it was exotic North African flavours that completed the dish.
In North African cuisine olives and preserved lemons are frequently used. They both add wonderful flavour to so many dishes. Preserved lemons can be purchased in the stores that carry North African or Middle Eastern food products. Additionally they can be bought online or even prepared at home. For this recipe I used a beautifully aromatic mix of spices labeled as couscous spice. The shop attendant told me that it was also one he liked to use for tagines. The spices in the mix are turmeric, ginger, cumin and other’s I can’t quite decipher.
Okay, let’s get cooking!
- 2 coquelets or poussin, each weighing 450 gm or just under 16 oz.
- 1 small preserved lemon, cut into 4 pieces and rinsed
- 1 small preserved lemon, cut into 4 pieces, rinsed and pith removed, and cut into thin slivers
- 13 pitted green olives, cut into ¼ths
- 1 small onion, cut in half
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 handful chopped cilantro
- 1 tbsp couscous spice mix (link to amazon)
- sea salt to taste
- 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 100 ml or 3.5 oz water
- Remove any string attached to the poussin, lightly rub with a little sea salt, then place them on a baking dish. Cut one preserved lemon into four pieces, rinse and stuff one quarter into each chicken, the rest place into baking dish. Cut one half of the onion into small pieces and set it aside -- the remaining half should be cut into two pieces and each piece stuffed into one poussin. Separate the handful of cilantro into two parts, one half gets set aside and the remaining divided and stuffed into each chicken.
- In a small bowl combine the lemon slivers, green olives, chopped onion, minced garlic, the remaining chopped cilantro, couscous spice mix, oil and water. Pour the mixture over the poussin, making sure that it is entirely coated. Allow to sit for 30 minutes before roasting.
- After 30 minutes, heat the oven to 200C or 390F. If you put the poussin in the refrigerator place on counter while the oven heats up. Roast for 45 minutes to 1 hour. Check on it a few times and bast with the pan juices. Do not allow the pan to dry out completely, leave some of the juices to serve over the poussin. Allow to cool for a few minutes before serving.
- If you can't find preserved lemons, fresh may be used -- but do not remove the pith.
- If you don't like cilantro/coriander then it can be replaced with flat leaf parsley.
On the side I served green beens lightly sauteed with olive oil. You could of course serve with a different green vegetable and a scoop of couscous cooked in vegetable broth. Whatever you decide to serve on the side doesn’t much matter as the scrumptious flavours of the roasted poussin will be the star of the meal.
I love dinners like this, super fast and easy to prepare but packed full of yummy flavours and scents.
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