Start to finish: 2 hours, 15 minutes (40 active)
For the stuffing:
1/2 pound firm white, homemade-style sandwich bread
3/4 cup finely chopped onion
1/3 cup finely diced celery
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh sage
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh thyme
1 teaspoon lemon zest
6 cooked breakfast sausages (about 6 ounces raw), sliced crosswise 1/4 inch thick
1/2 to 3/4 cup chicken broth
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the hens:
4 Cornish hens (about 2 pounds each)
Oil for brushing the skin
For the gravy:
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
Giblets from the hens (save the livers for another use)
1 small onion, sliced thin
1/2 medium carrot, sliced thin
1/2 cup red wine
3 cups chicken broth
4 1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
Make the stuffing:
Preheat the oven to 250 F. Cut the bread into 1/2-inch cubes and spread the cubes in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake them until barely golden, about 40 minutes. Let cool to room temperature.
In a medium skillet, cook the onion and celery in the butter over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the onion is translucent, about 5 minutes. Transfer the vegetables and butter to a medium bowl. Stir in the herbs, lemon zest, bread, sausages and enough of the stock to moisten the cubes. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Make the hens: Preheat the oven to 450 F. Stuff each hen with 1/2 cup of the stuffing and tie the legs. Rub the oil over all the hens and arrange them in one layer on a rack in a large roasting pan. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
Roast the hens for 35 minutes or until a meat thermometer inserted in the thickest part of the leg thigh joint registers 165 F. Transfer the hens from the roasting pan to a platter and let them rest for 10 to 15 minutes.
Make the gravy: While the hens are roasting, in a large skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat and add the giblets, onion and carrot. Reduce the heat to medium and cook, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned, about 8 minutes. Transfer the giblets and vegetables to a small saucepan. Deglaze the skillet with the red wine, scraping up the brown bits; simmer until reduced by half. Add the wine and chicken broth to the saucepan; bring to a boil. Simmer until the hens come out of the oven. Strain out the giblets and vegetables, return the liquid to the saucepan and bring it to a boil. In a small bowl whisk together 1/3 cup water and the flour and add it to the liquid in a stream, whisking. Add any juices from the platter with the resting hens. Simmer the mixture for a 5 minutes; salt and pepper to taste.
To serve: Cut each hen in half and transfer to 8 plates with the stuffing side down. Pour some of the gravy over each portion and serve the remainder on the side.
Nutrition information per serving: 369 calories; 138 calories from fat; 15 g fat (6 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 141 mg cholesterol; 680 mg sodium; 21 g carbohydrate; 1 g fiber; 3 g sugar; 32 g protein.
Sara Moulton, Associated Press