Pairing: Dry Creek Zin with game hens

Infusing the meat of a corn husk-wrapped game hen with the subtle flavor of corn adds a lovely accompaniment to this week's wine pick.|

A mouthful of our Wine of the Week, Dry Creek Vineyard 2013 Sonoma County Heritage Vines Zinfandel ($20), splashes across the palate like a time machine, transporting us to those early years when zinfandel from this appellation was being discovered. The varietal produces wonderful wines in many locations but its spiritual home is here, in the heart of Dry Creek Valley. Each beguiling sip of this wine tells you why.

First, there is the fruit for which the valley is famous, red raspberry, black raspberry and blackberry, all woven together gently and punctuated by licorice root, white pepper, black pepper and whispers of allspice and clove. The lingering finish is smooth, lively and refreshing.

At the table, the wine is as friendly as your favorite guest, that expert conversationalist who can navigate any uncomfortable moment with easy and grace. This wine is a peacemaker. Root vegetables, mushrooms, whole-grain polenta and other hearty grains like barley, wheat berries and farro are all good matches. A well-made whole-grain pasta, such as those from Community Grains, with a rich tomato sauce studded with oil-cured black olives, make a fabulous match. When it comes to meats, goat may be the finest companion, but slow-cooked beef and pork shoulder welcome the wine alongside, too.

For today’s recipe, I’m offering something counter-intuitive that works beautifully: Game hens roasted in salt. When you wrap the hens in dried corn husks, the meat is infused with the subtle flavor of corn, which in turn is accented by the paprika in the rub. All the flavors and textures are intensified by the salt casing, which acts as its own little oven. It may seem a bit daunting at first, but you’ll be amazing and delighted by the results, especially with this lovely wine alongside.


Game Hens Roasted in Salt

Serves 2

8 to 10 dried corn husks, soaked in warm water until pliable

3 to 4 pounds rock salt, plus more as needed

2 egg whites, lightly beaten

1 tablespoon smoked paprika or other paprika of choice

1 tablespoon sweet paprika

½ teaspoon chipotle powder

Kosher salt

Black pepper in a mill

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 Cornish game hens, thawed, rinsed and patted dry

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Drain the corn husks and pat them dry with a tea towel.

Select a cooking vessel wide enough and deep enough to hold the two game hens with plenty of leftover space. Mix the salt, egg whites and ½ cup water together in a large bowl until it forms a slightly sticky paste and spread a layer about ½-inch thick on the bottom of the vessel. Set aside.

Put the paprikas and chipotle powder in a small bowl, season generously with salt and pepper and stir in the olive oil. Rub the mixture into the game hens.

Set several corn husks on your work surface, overlapping them. Set a hen in the center and fold the husks over the hen, tying each end tightly either with kitchen twine. Wrap the second hen.

Nestle the hens into the layer of salt, leaving about 2 inches between them. Cover with the remaining salt mixture, being certain to cover the birds completely.

Set on the middle rack of the oven and bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until the internal temperature reaches 140 to 145 degrees. (To test, poke an instant-read thermometer through the salt into a hen). Remove from the oven and let rest for at least 15 minutes, during which time the hens will continue to cook.

To extract the hens, use a meat tenderizer or hammer to break the crust and use a large sturdy spoon to lift out the hens. Use a pastry brush to remove salt that clings to the husks. Set both hens on plates, cut the strings, open them up and serve right away.

Michele Anna Jordan hosts “Mouthful” each Sunday at 7 p.m. on KRCB 90.9 & 91.1 FM. E-mail Jordan at You’ll find her blog, “Eat This Now,” at

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