Rock Cornish Hen Dry Steamed in Salt, Cinnamon & Star Anise (Pinaupo)
I started with basic Chinese stir-fry when I began cooking as a teenager. I just grew tired of the daily Sinigang na Bangus & Baboy, Fried Tilapia, Menudo, and Adobo my mom would always tell the household help to prep as dinner after school. These were the mainstays on the family dinner table almost daily. My dad never had a problem with his evening meals. He made his own Ilocano inspired fish stew smothered with some bottled salty fish paste which brought him comfort after a hard day’s work in the office. For me, it was pure agony on the dinner table. I just realized now why my dad dedicated time to cook his meals. It was a form of relaxation for him and the dishes were already very predictable. Meals were so flat that sometimes I would lock myself up in my room after dinner for having something so monotonous and gloomy. Until today, I have stopped cooking these specific dishes for the basic reason of having them almost religiously daily. I really haven’t changed my mind nor tried to cook them again; after so long time ago. I resorted to Chinese cooking which was simple, easy and definitely new to my taste buds.
During that time, whole chickens were relatively cheaper compared with other meat cuts. There were about three to four Magnolia whole chickens kept in the freezer besides the usual fish and pork, and I expected them to be cooked as adobo sometime soon. Before the household helpers would start making dinner, I would look into some worn out cookbooks and see other recipes that can be done with whole chickens without resorting to chopping. And, I saw a lot! I was also able to experiment with the Turbo Broiler which was a relatively new contraption and with the Filipino Style Wok. I was so surprised the helpers didn’t even bother to check what can be done besides the usual Adobo. The spices were all available in the grocery, and yet they strangled themselves to the normal and the usual. I had had enough with the common fare and went on to try something that was simple, but elegantly presentable: CHICKEN ‘PINAUPO.’
This dish was probably one of my first successful adventures into cooking an entire chicken. I had no knife skills back then. I would usually instruct the household help what to do with the aromatics and the meat and she would gladly slice, dice, and dissect whatever was said on the cookbook. Since Chicken ‘Pinaupo’ did not require any cutting nor slicing, it was an easy process to follow even by a novice and young cook like me.
The Chicken was not the end of it all. When I started some courses in Culinary Arts, I encountered more game and poultry which I haven’t heard of in my lifetime. They came in different sizes with various ways of cooking and stuffing. Others were wild and tasted very gamy, while some were just the smaller version of the chicken itself. There were breeds tailored specifically for special occasions like Thanksgiving and Easter and there were something of similar also so served on special occasions like Hens and Squabs. Wings, breast, and drumsticks were all sold separately for convenience; neatly arranged and stacked on the display cabinets. There were Turkey legs, breast and wings as well with specific purpose and use beside it. With this long line-up of Game and Poultry at my fingertips, I was able to experiment on each besides just sticking to the old chicken. I was able to try quail and had loved the way it tasted when it was marinated in spices and soy sauce for days. Quail eggs were as equally abundant. I gave the chicken a rest.
For this Chicken ‘Pinaupo,’ I decided to use a Rock Cornish Hen. The last time I cooked a Cornish Hen was back in Culinary School using Cognac for the sauce and wild rice as stuffing. It was one of the most succulent poultry I had tasted since. I also had to debone it first to stuff it with rice. That was the challenge for the day. It was elegant, easy and very new in my food dictionary, and it came out very juicy and tender.
1 Rock Cornish Game Hen
½ a bag of Coarse Salt
2 Cinnamon Sticks
2 pcs. Star Anise
2 Garlic Cloves
1 Stalk Green Onion
1. Wash and pat-dry the Cornish hen and season with salt and five-spice powder inside out.
2. Insert the Lemon, Orange Peel, Garlic Cloves, Parsley Stems and Green Onion into the cavity of the Hen.
3. Truss the Hen with a butcher’s twine to keep it intact while cooking.
4. Spread the coarse salt at the bottom of a deep pan, and place the Cinnamon Stick, Star Anise and Black Peppercorns atop the salt bed.
5. Rest the Hen on top of the salt bed and cover the wok with a lid. Turn the heat to medium.
6. Remove the Hen from the wok, chop or serve as is.
I really never had any favourite dish growing up nor recall any special dish made by my mom, the household help and/or a neighbour. It was already a blessing when I had the opportunity to visit a neighbour’s party and feast on the food that was extraordinarily different from my family’s table. Rest-assured I would eat and pig-out. Food just tasted so much better if it was prepared by somebody else; away from the usual rickety-rack bangus and tilapia. I would, however, always try their chicken dish; fried or roasted most specifically. If there was a lechon, that would definitely be a major factor, and I wouldn’t forget that neighbour for life. I was safe having both even without rice, and usually, I would feast on the Roasted Chicken Legs first. It had had to be there on my plate beside the crispy and crunchy lechon skin. Moreover, everybody had bought their own Turbo Broilers, and each had their way of spicing and sprucing up a chicken using that wonderful contraption. Chicken ‘Pinaupo’ has a similar taste and feel as with the ‘Turbo’ Broiled Chicken; having less grease, but more juice. That was probably the only kitchen contraption I had loved growing up. Everything that came out of that mini-oven was just delectable. I learned it the hard way the first time I used it. I got my first taste of a burn.
“Kulinarya Cooking Club was started by a group of Filipino foodies living in Sydney who are passionate about the Filipino culture and its colourful cuisine.
Each month we will showcase a new dish along with their family recipes. By sharing these recipes, we hope you find the same passion and love for Filipino food as we do. – Kulinarya Cooking Club
- 1 Rock Cornish Game Hen
- ½ a bag of Coarse Salt
- 2 Cinnamon Sticks
- 2 pcs. Star Anise
- Black Peppercorns
- 2 Garlic Cloves
- 1 Lemon
- Orange Peel
- Parsley Stems
- 1 Stalk Green Onion
- Wash and pat-dry the Cornish hen and season with salt and five-spice powder inside out.
- Insert the Lemon, Orange Peel, Garlic Cloves, Parsley Stems and Green Onion into the cavity of the Hen.
- Truss the Hen with a butcher’s twine to keep it intact while cooking.
- Spread the coarse salt at the bottom of a deep pan, and place the Cinnamon Stick, Star Anise and Black Peppercorns atop the salt bed.
- Rest the Hen on top of the salt bed and cover the wok with a lid. Turn the heat to medium.
- Remove the Hen from the wok, chop or serve as is.