Vinegar Poached Game Hens for Their Sheer Simplicity

Vinegar Poached Game Hens. Little pickled birds.

Are you still with me? This might not appeal to you right off the bat. But a lot of cultures use vinegar to both flavor and “cure” all sorts of delicious food. I’ve been saving this recipe for when my mood got just sour enough to match the bite in these little pickled birds, I mean Vinegar Poached Game Hens.

I see what’s going on in blogland, and sometimes I just have to take a stand for the kind of food I believe in. I know that cupcakes and healthy snacks for kids get all the Pinterest love these days. I also realize that it’s the Holiday season. I should be posting peppermint lattes, right? Well, these are some lovable topics (and I do love them). But we don’t ALL have to post the same recipes… do we?

Nobody else is posting vinegar poached anything right now. I cruised the blogs, just to see. Vinegar poached is not a trending topic. Still, lots of cultures cook food in vinegar. Spanish escabeshe and Filipino adobo come to mind. However I chose vinegar poached game hens for more than just shock value. I chose them in order to talk about poaching. How often do you poach anything other than an egg?

Poaching is an often overlooked way of cooking delicate proteins like eggs (of course), fish and sometimes chicken. It’s accomplished by submerging said protein in a barely simmering liquid. Typically about 160 to 180 degrees is ideal, but you don’t really need a thermometer. It’s easy to teach yourself to recognize the right temperature. The surface of the liquid will shimmer, showing few if any bubbles. Turn the heat higher, about 185 degrees, and you’ll see a few gentle bubbles form around the edge of the pot. This is considered to be a full simmer (the heat level for braising sturdier cuts of meat). Crank the heat up even further to 212 degrees or so, and you’ve reached the boiling point. This is reserved for cooking pasta or blanching vegetables etc.

Today however we’re vinegar poaching. I consider this preparation a particularly Italian way of dealing with these little birds. The best of Italian cooking embraces simplicity. Which means you should choose the best-quality ingredients you can find. These little birds will bring a great deal more flavor if you spend just a little bit more money for good, humanely raised hens. Once they’ve cooked, I have to encourage you to use the vinegar poached broth as the stock for a sour soup. I plan to. GREG

Vinegar Poached Game Hens

Vinegar-Poached Game Hens 

Print This Recipe Total time Yield 2 to 4Published

Save the poaching liquid as a soup stock. It’s particularly good in Chinese Hot and Sour soup.

Vinegar-poached game hens


  • 2 Cornish game hens
  • salt and pepper (as needed for seasoning)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 carrot (roughly chopped)
  • 1 onion (roughly chopped)
  • 2 celery stalks
  • 1 fistful mixed herbs (plus more as garnish)
  • 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
  • 2 cup apple cider vinegar
  • ¼ cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
  • 2/3 cup chicken stock


Leaving the skin intact trim the birds of any obvious fat. Season them generously on all sides with salt and pepper; inside and out. Tie the legs together with twine and tuck the wings under. 

Heat the olive oil in a Dutch oven just large enough to hold both birds. Add the carrot, onion and celery and cook, stirring occasionally until softened; about 6 minutes. Season the mixture lightly and add the herbs, sugar and both vinegars. Bring the mixture to a boil then lower the heat and simmer about 5 minutes.

Place the birds in the pot breast side up. Add enough water to barely cover them. Place the lid on the pot and simmer until cooked through; about 25 minutes. Turn off the heat and let the birds rest in the cooking liquid while you make the sauce.

Meanwhile melt the butter in a small saucepan. Add the flour and cook, whisking for 1 minute. Gradually stir in the chicken stock and simmer until smooth and thickened; about 3 minutes. In small additions add up to about a ½ cup of the poaching liquid from the Dutch oven. Add enough of the liquid to thin the sauce to your desired consistency; use your judgment. Increase the heat to a boil. The turn off the heat and season with salt and pepper.

Remove the chicken from the poaching liquid. Let them drain well on a rack and then move them to a warm serving platter. Spoon the sauce over the birds to glaze the skin. Garnish with more fresh herbs. Serve warm.