At Austin’s Majestic Diner, co-owner and chef Mick Vann gives the royal treatment to even the simplest entrée. Vann has been cooking for twenty years (the last seven at Clarksville Cafe in Austin), and he still has a knack for the unexpected: whole leaves of spinach in spanakopita and a delicate beer batter encasing Szechuan red snapper. Vann’s imaginatively prepared game hens enliven a traditional seasonal dish by using a regional specialty, the tamale. The rich and exotic stuffing and the piquant sauce translate well to chicken, turkey, or pork dishes. The rich and exotic stuffing and the piquant sauce translate well to chicken, turkey, or pork dishes. See recipe, page 210.


4 game hens
1 tablespoon achiote seeds
2 cups oil
46 ounces tomato juice
3 bay leaves
1 tablespoon granulated garlic
1 tablespoon oregano leaves
1 teaspoon each of dark chile powder, ground cumin, and salt
2 ounces lime juice
4 ounces tequila
1 medium onion, chopped


12 steamed fresh tamales
2 cups grated Monterey Jack
1/2 cup cream cheese
1 medium onion, minced
1/2 teaspoon each of granulated garlic, oregano leaves, ground cumin, and dark chile powder


1/2 pound pork loin, minced
1 medium onion, finely minced
1 teaspoon minced garlic
2 tablespoons red chile powder
3 tablespoons butter or bacon fat
12 ounces Shiner Bock beer
3 ounces tomato paste
1 1/2 to 2 cups rich chicken stock
1 bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon oregano
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
Pinch sugar

Rinse game hens, and remove wing tips. For marinade, heat achiote seeds in oil over medium heat until oil turns dark red, then let cool. Add remaining ingredients, and marinate hens in refrigerator for 6 to 8 hours.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. To make stuffing, crumble tamales by hand, then mix with remaining ingredients. Fill marinated hens, and truss birds. Bake 30 to 35 minutes, until juice from pricked thigh runs clear.

For sauce, sauté pork, onion, garlic, and chile powder in butter or fat in saucepan over low heat until onion is transparent. Add remaining ingredients. Bring to boil, then simmer over low heat for 1 hour, stirring occasionally. Add up to 2 more tablespoons chile powder, if desired. Sauce can be made in advance and reheated. To serve, pour sauce over game hens or place hens in pool of sauce. Serves 4.