This is another old-school Julia Child recipe, from the Julia Child and More Company cookbook — a collection of recipes from the television series of the same name. It replaced the pork tenderloin dinner as my go-to for impressing guests or the new girlfriend (including She Who Must Not Be Named and She Who Must Be Obeyed). The impressing part occasionally backfired due to a finicky component, but I’ll get to that in a bit.
I started with three game hens that I split down the back by cutting out the backbones (which I reserved for making a simple brown stock).
I made a marinade of white wine, olive oil, shallots, tarragon, salt, and pepper. The hens went into a bag with the marinade, then sat in the fridge for about six hours (I started this prep in the morning).
Once out of the marinade, I dried the hens, laid them out in a sheet pan, brushed them with melted butter, then browned them under the broiler for five minutes on each side. While they rested, I grated a cup of Gruyere cheese, set the oven to 400°F, then sprinkled the cheese over the hens. I added a cup of white wine to the pan for basting.
After about thirty minutes of roasting and basting every six minutes, the hens were done.
While the hens roasted, I dealt with the finicky bit, the “giant straw potato galette,” which is just a big slab of rösti potatoes. I started by cutting 6 medium baking potatoes into matchsticks. In the past I cheated and used the large-holed side of a box grater. It worked, but the potatoes had to be wrung out to keep all the water from weeping into the cake. This time I used my mandoline, and wound up with a bowlful of perfect potato matchsticks.
I set a twelve inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat and filmed it with melted clarified butter. Then I added the potatoes, pressing them down into a pancake. I covered them with salt and pepper, and drizzled on some more of the clarified butter.
After browning for about three minutes, I lowered the heat to medium, covered the pan, and cooked the potatoes for about eight minutes, until they were tender on top.
Now came the finicky part, the part that invariably resulted in disaster under a very specific condition: The first time I make this for any new woman guest — friend, girlfriend, relative, anything — I screw up flipping over the cake in the pan. Usually, like this time (new female dinner guest), it’s a minor problem – the flip is incomplete and part of the cake gets folded under itself, which is easy to fix. But twice — once for a girlfriend with her mother watching (“Hey, Earl, come look at this!”), and once for She Who Must Be Obeyed — I have completely missed and splashed potato allover the top of the stove.
This time I had the usual tuck-under, which I fixed. I was so nervous, however, that I failed to take a photo of the perfectly browned result.
With the hens and potatoes ready, I finished the final plating: I transferred the potato cake to a platter, split each hen in half along the breastbone, and arranged them over the galette.
If you look closely you can see the potatoes between the hen halves. I served each half with a wedge of the potatoes, and passed a sauce made from the brown stock.
With all the wine and cheese you’d think this dish would seem heavy, but the cheese acted more like a nutty addition to the crispy skin. A side dish of sauteed green beans provided the necessary brightness. Needless to say, despite the curse, the potatoes were perfect: crispy and buttery.
Despite the ever-present potential for disaster, I have a sentimental attachment to this dish. It’s the first recipe in the book, which was a gift from my parents when they realized I was serious about cooking for myself. Even if I never cook another recipe out of it, it will always reside on my main cookbook shelf, becuase it has an extra bit of mojo: