There are lots of smaller birds to roast that can be just as festive as a turkey: poussin, Cornish game hens and quail, for example.


Victoria Topham, chef-owner of Piñon Market & Café, has cooked many, many holiday dinners, for herself, for catering clients and for her takeout market. These are her turkey alternatives.

“This is based on a recipe I prepared last Thanksgiving with a split bone-in turkey breast. It is very moist, flavorful and super easy to prepare. It cooks quickly, making it a perfect option for Thanksgiving dinner for two, or it could easily expand for a crowd. The cavity on a poussin is so small, you need extra dressing on the side. As we all know, stuffing is the best part of Thanksgiving dinner. Laying the bird over the dressing achieves maximum flavor.”

Roasted game hens with roasted vegetable stuffing

SERVES 2 (with leftovers)

2 Cornish game hens, butterflied

1 Tbsp. softened butter and 1 Tbsp. melted butter

1 tsp. each of chopped fresh thyme and sage 

Salt and pepper

½ onion, chopped

1 small sweet potato, peeled and chopped

1 small turnip, rutabaga, or celeriac bulb, chopped

½ bulb fennel, chopped

2 ribs celery, chopped

1 tsp. minced garlic

2 tsp. olive oil

4 cups cubed day-old bread

¼ cup chopped parsley

2 tsp. each minced thyme and sage

½ cup low sodium chicken or turkey broth

Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 375.

Combine softened butter and herbs to form a paste. Set aside. Remove any excess fat and skin from game hens, press along breast bone to flatten slightly. Rinse and pat dry. Carefully run your fingers under skin to loosen.  Rub herb butter under skin. Refrigerate hens. 

Toss all vegetables in olive oil and roast in 350 oven for 10 to 15  minutes or until vegetables are slightly browned. Transfer to large bowl with bread cubes, broth, salt and pepper and fresh herbs. Toss well.

Transfer ½ dressing to a shallow oven safe baking dish. Wrap remaining half in double thickness of aluminum foil to heat alongside roasting game hens. Drape game hens over stuffing. Brush with melted butter; sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast 40 minutes, rotating pan halfway through cooking, until the meat registers 165 in the thickest part. Remove from oven, tent with foil and let rest 15 minutes. Combine dressing from baking dish with dressing from foil packet. This will distribute flavor and juices from the game hens with all of the prepared dressing. 

What's a Poussin? In Europe, the word “poussin” means “young chicken,” less than 28 days old at slaughter. In the United States, it refers to a Rock Cornish game hen, an all white meat crossbreed developed in the 1950s. It’s heavier and older than the European poussin. Rock Cornish game hens are sold frozen in most supermarkets.

Next>>>Bye Bye, Birdie

Back>>>America's New Feast intro