Catalan-Style Braised Cornish Hens with Stuffed Cabbage Purses

Preparation info

  • Difficulty


  • Serves


Appears in

The Slow Mediterranean Kitchen

By Paula Wolfert

Published 2003

  • About

There's an old Mediterranean saying: “For the one who likes working, there's always something to do” . . . which brings me to this wonderful, slow Catalan specialty. I know it's a ridiculously long recipe, but it isn't hard. While it is traditionally made with partridges, I've found it works well with our readily available Cornish game hens.

The hens are marinated, simmered with aromatic vegetables, smothered with leaves of cabbage, then slowly cooked until everything is tender. The cabbage leaves, perfumed with the birds' essence, are then drained, stuffed, rolled in flour and eggs, and fried. Meanwhile, the sauce is enriched with a picada, a sauce based on toasted almonds. This dish is a perfect example of the intricacy of Catalan cooking. The delicious result is the payoff.


  • 4 Cornish game hens
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • Pinch of ground cinnamon
  • Pinch of grated nutmeg
  • teaspoons herbes de Provence
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 small green cabbage (about 1⅓ pounds)
  • ounces pancetta, finely chopped
  • ¾ cup chopped onion
  • cup chopped carrot
  • 6 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley, plus 2 sprigs
  • 3 tablespoons sherry, preferably oloroso
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • 2 whole cloves
  • 5 garlic cloves
  • ½ cup fresh bread crumbs
  • ¼ pound ground veal
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • 12 lightly toasted blanched almonds
  • Olive oil, for frying
  • Flour


  1. Wipe the birds with paper towels and season with salt and pepper. Reserve the neck bones, gizzards, and hearts. Mix pinches of cinnamon and nutmeg, ¼ teaspoon of the herbes de Provence, and 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and rub over the skin. Wrap and refrigerate overnight.
  2. About 3 hours before serving, remove the birds from the refrigerator. Bring plenty of water to a boil in a large saucepan over high heat. Cut out the core of the cabbage and remove the leaves, discarding the outermost ones. Blanch them in salted water for 10 minutes. Drain and leave them to dry
  3. Heat a large heavy Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil and the pancetta and let sizzle. Add the hens and fry on one side until brown; turn and brown the other side. Add ½ cup of the chopped onion, the carrot, and 1 tablespoon of the chopped parsley and cook, stirring, until the onion is soft and golden. Add the neck bones, gizzards, and hearts. Pour in the sherry, stock, the remaining 1 teaspoon of herbes de Provence, the whole cloves, and 4 of the garlic cloves and cook, uncovered, for 15 minutes over medium-low heat. Spread the cabbage leaves over the hens, cover, and cook until they are meltingly tender, 45 minutes to 1 hour.
  4. Meanwhile, in a bowl, moisten the bread crumbs with a few teaspoons of the cooking liquid. Mix in the ground veal, remaining ¼ cup chopped onion and 2 tablespoons chopped parsley, ¼ teaspoon salt, and pinches of pepper and grated nutmeg. Work in a few tablespoons of the beaten egg. Set in the refrigerator to chill and develop flavor for at least 30 minutes.
  5. Make the picada: In a mortar or small spice mill, pound or grind the almonds, remaining garlic clove, and 3 tablespoons chopped parsley until pasty. (If necessary, add a few teaspoons of water to make it smooth.) Set aside.
  6. Use tongs to transfer the cabbage leaves to a colander set in the sink to drain. Place the birds tail side up in a dish to rest; remove as many loose bones as possible. Cover with foil to keep warm. Strain the cooking liquid into another saucepan; discard the bones, and press on the vegetables to extract all their juices. Degrease the liquid and correct the seasoning. As soon as the cabbage is cool enough to handle, divide into 4 piles and fill each leaf with one-quarter of the veal stuffing. Roll up tightly and flatten into 3-inch rounds.
  7. About 30 minutes before serving, preheat the oven to 375°F. Brush the hens with a little oil and set in the oven to brown. Gently reheat the sauce, stir in the picada, and simmer for 5 minutes. Correct the seasoning. Heat ¼ inch of olive oil in a wide skillet until very hot but not smoking. First dip the cabbage rolls in flour, then in the beaten egg. Fry the rolls in hot oil until golden crisp on all sides, 15 minutes. Spoon the sauce on a large warm serving platter and place the hens in it in one layer to absorb the juices and remain moist. Surround with the cabbage and garnish with the sprigs of parsley. Serve at once.