Tennessee Two-Step Game Hen

By Joe Sevier


Joe Sevier
Chef Jean-Paul Bourgeois of Blue Smoke | New York: Smoked and Fried Cornish Game Hen with Tabasco Hot Honey
Chef Jean-Paul Bourgeois of Blue Smoke | New York: Smoked and Fried Cornish Game Hen with Tabasco Hot Honey

As a Louisiana-born chef of a Southern restaurant in New York City, Jean-Paul Bourgeois knew his diners would expect some representation of fried chicken on his menu. But, since that restaurant is Blue Smoke—Danny Meyer’s barbecue and jazz joint in Manhattan’s Flatiron district—he wanted to go beyond the basics and, “add more to the dialogue of fried chicken,” says Bourgeois.

“It’s a mash-up of two Tennessee poultry favorites with Louisiana drizzled on top and a lot of Blue Smoke love. I had eaten at Cozy Corner [an iconic Memphis ‘cue shack], and it was great!” A signature item from that menu became his jumping-off point: smoked Cornish game hen. Bourgeois combined that idea with Nashville hot chicken, another Tennessee icon.

Back in the kitchen at Blue Smoke, Bourgeois spatchcocks and brines the diminutive birds in a salt-water solution spiced with black pepper, bay leaves, and garlic. The hens are smoked for about four hours at 225°F, after which they’re chilled and put on hold.

For a little Louisiana flair, Bourgeois uses a battering technique he picked up during a brief stint at the R&D kitchen for Popeyes. (Yes, that Popeyes.) The cold birds are dredged in spiced flour—a step he usually skips for breading raw chickens, but finds necessary to make the method work for the smoked birds. Then they go for a dip in a tempura-like batter colored pink from a generous pour of Tabasco. Lastly, they go back into that dry dredge. After a 400°F, five-minute fry, they go into a quick dunk of spiced oil and get a dusting of four-pepper powder (equal parts ground Szechuan pepper, habanero powder, Aleppo, and cayenne). To finish, a Tabasco- and vinegar-spiked hot honey is drizzled over top.

The dish is a cross-cultural powerhouse of heat, sweet, crunch, and smoke. “Barbecue is infamous for regionality. Blue Smoke was born in New York and should take on that identity,” says Bourgeois. The question is, what New York flavors will find themselves in his smokehouse next? 

Get the recipe here.

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