I have a smoker – a useful item when it is hot and you want to make something interesting without heating up the kitchen. It is an electric smoker, which I purchased because it seemed safer than my old charcoal smoker in this fire-prone region. You soak wood chips in water – I used apple wood this time – and then place them around the electric elements before plugging in the smoker. The beauty of a smoker is that you can get that smoke-penetrating-the-meat flavor without the added salt that most commercial smoked products have. It is also inherently a low-fat way of cooking. Any small amounts of remaining fat drip into the water pan below the racks. I have smoked fish, leg of lamb, pork tenderloin, turkey, and later this year I plan to smoke a duck.
Given that it was a record-breaking 103, I decided to smoke a couple of Cornish hens that I was planning originally to bake. I did not marinate or brine them, although I have marinated smoker-bound meats in everything from beer and wine to orange juice. I planned to make a hearty barbecue sauce, and I thought that the flavor of the marinade would be overwhelmed by the sauce. So I just cut them in half, took off the skins and fat, and put them in the smoker, filling the water pan that sits below the racks with a mixture of water and leftover wine. I smoked them for about 2 1/2 hours. (You could also smoke them with the skins on, but it is sometimes harder to remove the skins after smoking.)
What you see on the rack below the hens are mushrooms. I like to fully use the smoker space, so I usually tuck mushrooms or other smokable vegetables like eggplant around the main course. Smoked mushrooms are good on sandwiches, and in salads and pilafs.
The smoked hens develop a beautiful color. I used to think that Cornish hens were very high fat, and with skin on, they are a higher fat entrée. But without skins, a half of a hen, the usual serving size, only has 4 grams of fat.
I am somewhat obsessed with blueberries. At this time of year, I buy them by the pound and try to work them into everything. The barbecue sauce originally came from Eating Well, another magazine you should consider reading. I left the jalapeno peppers out because I didn’t want a very spicy sauce, but added a little black pepper for some warmth. This makes a fairly assertive barbecue sauce.
Blueberry-Bourbon Barbecue Sauce
1 Tablespoon of Canola Oil
1 small red onion, finely chopped
4 cloves of garlic, chopped
1/2 cup bourbon (confession: I didn’t have any bourbon so I used Southern Comfort)
2 cups fresh or frozen (unthawed) blueberries
1/2 cup ketchup
1/3 cup cider vinegar
2 Tablespoon of brown sugar
1 Tablespoon of molasses
1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
a few grinds of black pepper
Heat oil in large saucepan over medium heat (In retrospect, I would have used a non-stick pan). Add onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden (about 3 minutes). Add garlic and cook for 30 seconds. Add bourbon. Increase heat to high and bring to a boil, cook until most of the liquid has evaporated. Stir in blueberries, ketchup, vinegar, brown sugar, molasses, allspice, and black pepper. Return to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook until thickened, stirring occasionally, about 20 minutes. This makes 2 cups. They list the serving size as 1 Tablespoon, and 0 grams of fat/serving. Realistically, you’d use more than this on your entrée. I think I used about 1/4 cup. This would make it about 2 grams of fat/serving.
And what is underneath the hens: a quick pilaf of brown and wild rice mix to which I added chopped up smoked mushrooms, green onions, and a handful of dried blueberries. I estimate that the whole entrée had 8 grams of fat, including 1/2 hen, a cup of pilaf, and 1/4 cup of sauce. I took the pilaf the next day for lunch with some chopped Cornish hen mixed in.