Comino Honey Glazed Hens

1 cup honey
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin (comino)
dash liquid smoke flavoring (optional)
1 stick cinnamon
6 Cornish hens, rinsed and dried
1 tablespoon cornbread crumbs or finely ground corn tortillas (optional)

Note: The glaze must be prepared a day ahead. The hens should be cooked and served the same day.

To make glaze, warm honey over low to medium-low heat and stir in cumin, liquid smoke, and cinnamon stick. Remove from heat and let sit at room temperature, covered, for 24 hours. Reserve 1 to 2 tablespoons for guajillo salsa (recipe below).

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Remove neck and giblets, if any, from hens. Place hens on a rack and roast for about 35 minutes, basting with comino-honey glaze about every 10 minutes. Sprinkle with cornbread crumbs (this creates a nice crust) and continue baking until juices run clear when bird is pierced, about 10 more minutes. Remove from oven, reserving juices for guajillo salsa.

Let rest for about 5 minutes before serving.

Smoky Guajillo Salsa

4 garlic cloves, unpeeled
12 guajillo chiles (guajillos are reddish-brown, smooth-skinned dried chiles, about 4 inches long; they are sometimes labeled “cascabel” chiles in stores; dried New Mexico red chiles may be substituted)
1 teaspoon dried oregano
3 cups chicken broth, homemade or canned (may include cooking juices from Cornish hens)
4 ounces smoked slab bacon (or 6 thick slices), diced
dash liquid smoke (optional)
salt to taste
1 to 2 tablespoons comino honey (see recipe for Cornish hens, above)

Note: The salsa may be prepared a day or more ahead.

Roast garlic cloves on a comal or in a heavy-bottomed pan over medium-high heat until soft, about 10 minutes. Let cool and peel.

Toast chiles for a minute or two on a comal over medium-high heat. Transfer to a bowl and cover with hot water to rehydrate for 20 minutes. Pour off water, destem chiles, and transfer to a blender with roasted garlic, oregano, and 1 cup broth. Blend until smooth and put through a medium strainer.

In a heavy-bottomed pan, cook bacon over medium-high heat until all fat has been rendered. Remove bacon pieces, then pour strained chile mixture into bacon fat and cook over medium heat, stirring, for about 5 minutes. Add 1 more cup broth and the liquid smoke and continue cooking until salsa is reduced by half, about 40 minutes; if mixture becomes too thick, thin with up to 1 more cup broth. Finish by stirring in salt and comino honey. Serve as an accompaniment to Cornish hens.

From the December 2000 article Season’s Eatings.