The Witcher is coming to Netflix next month, and I can’t freakin’ wait!
Most of you probably are familiar with The Witcher video game series. In it, you play as Geralt of Rivia, a man who slays monsters for money. For today’s recipe, though, I want to reference the material these games originate – the short story and novel series by Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski.
Click here to skip to the recipe for Hazelnut Game Hen.
The World of the Witcher
For today’s recipe, I’ll be referencing the short story “A Grain of Truth” from The Witcher‘s short story collection, The Last Wish. This book is an excellent place to start if you want to get a feel for Geralt of Rivia‘s world and the darkness behind fairy stories. In it, we experience a number of his memories on the road and learn that there is never a clear line between the good and monstrous.
In “Grain of Truth,” though, we see Geralt encounter Nivellen, a man trapped in a version of the “Beauty and the Beast” storyline. Nivellen, once human, turned into a ghastly bear creature after raping a priestess. Living in a blue rose-surrounded mansion that obeys his every whim from lighting candles to conjuring feasts, he ekes out an existence “entertaining” merchants’ daughters.
When meeting Geralt and learning that the Witcher does not believe him a monster to kill, he conjures up a feast for them:
“Yes.” The monster rubbed his hands. “This is better than servants, isn’t it? Help yourself, dear guest. Here is some fowl, here some boar ham, here terrine of…I don’t know what. Something. Here we have some hazel grouse. Pox, no, it’s partridge. I got the spells muddled up. Eat up, eat up. This is proper, real food, don’t worry.”
We then learn from Nivellen that he saw some “grain of truth” in fairy stories, so he would attempt to break his curse by starting relationships with the daughters of fortune-seeking men who would come to his castle. He finds no pleasure in his father’s wealth, sumptuous feasts no longer have meaning, and his dalliances die quickly.
Nivellen has long given up trying to break the curse, but now he continues to invite others in and offer them food and treasure. He does this because like everyone else, he desires and requires a genuine connection with others — a bond of “true love” if you will.
Hens Among the Hazel
As you gathered from the recipe title and book quote, I tried to figure out that “partridge” recipe. Hazel grouse is a bird species rather than a culinary dish, but we also see an abundance of hazel shrubs surrounding the castle at the beginning of the chapter. Hazelnut would be a likely accompaniment to a fowl dish in this region.
Since partridge and grouse are sparsely available, I cooked up a cornish game hen as it is similar in size in flavor. I needed a method appropriate to the books, however. That’s why I started looking up traditional Polish chicken recipes given the author’s origins.
I found a Polish-American dish called Wedding Chicken. This dish involves finely mincing onions and garlic with paprika to stuff and coat this fowl with flavor before roasting in an oven. The idea of a “wedding chicken” also bears appropriate given Nivellen’s predicament.
The book also describes the hen “crunch[ing] like a piece of toast” between Nivellen’s jaws in one bite. A cornish game hen will crunch pretty quickly along the spine when being cut in half, but I thought a crispy skin would be even more satisfying. That’s why I added roasted hazelnuts and butter to the onion paste. Butter’s water content will give poultry skin that crackling you crave. And hazelnuts impart a wild bittersweetness that rounds out the caramelized onion and garlic.
Pair this with some roast brussels sprouts and rosewater risotto, and you have a meal to share with your true love, or just some friends looking to binge-watch Netflix’s Witcher adaptation.
Sing for your Supper!
If you plan to cook the recipe off the site, keep scrolling. However, while access to recipes on the blog will always be free, I now have printable PDF recipe cards and thematic cook-along Spotify playlists as rewards for those who choose to support the blog.
The printable recipe cards and playlist for Witcher-inspired Hazelnut Game Hen will be available as a $2 donor reward on my Ko-Fi page until Wednesday, December 4th, 2019, at 8 pm EST.
You can join my Patreon community at the “Sing for your Supper” level ($1/month) for access to the playlists or the “It’s All in the Cards” level ($5/month) or higher for access to ALL of my blog recipe cards and playlists. Patrons of all reward tiers will even receive a welcome gift of my Lord of the Rings recipe cards and playlists from January to get you started.
Witcher Wedding Hen
Hazelnut Game Hen
Equipment: Oven, clean dishcloth, baking sheet, aluminum foil, cooking spray, and food processor.
- 2 cornish game hens
- 1 small yellow onion, peeled and quartered
- 6 cloves of garlic, peeled and split
- 2 tablespoons smoked paprika
- 1/2 cup shelled hazelnuts
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2 tablespoons honey
- kosher salt
- Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line the baking sheet with aluminum foil and pour the hazelnuts on top. Roast the nuts in the oven for 14 minutes.
- Transfer the nuts to the dishcloth and pull the edges together into a loose bag on your kitchen counter. Press down on the fabric and rub vigorously until most of the hazelnut skins fall off. Crank up the heat on the oven to 375°F.
- Pour the hazelnuts into the food processor with the onion, garlic, paprika, and honey. Blend the mix until smooth. Then pulse in kosher salt to taste and scrape out the mixture into a separate dish.
- Coat the foil-lined baking sheet with cooking spray and pat the inside and outside of the game hens dry with paper towels. Tuck the wings under the birds and start covering the outside and cavity with the hazelnut paste. Make sure also to loosen the skin with your fingers and spread the paste on the meat underneath.
- Arrange the hens on top of the baking sheet and season liberally with kosher salt. Roast them in the oven for an hour.
- Transfer the hens to a cutting board and tent with foil to let rest for 10 minutes while plating your sides.
- When ready to serve, cut each hen in half along the spine and transfer each half to a plate.