Cumin & Honey Roast Chicken or Game Hens, Spanish Style



by Cat, Jan 2009 (Photo, right, from Wikimedia Commons)

I’ve not had a lot of experience with Spanish cuisine, but what I have eaten, I love the flavors – sweet and savory at the same time.

When I use chicken pieces, I start with a whole chicken and cut it into pieces myself: 2 half-breasts, 2 thighs, 2 drumsticks, 2 wings, and bony pieces (neck, back). I collect bony pieces in my freezer, adding the long bones from thigh, wings and legs after I’ve eaten that meat, for making broth when I’ve collected enough bones.

When I use a game hen, I butterfly it, and then brine it for 2 hours minimum. After roasting, I cut the butterflied bird in half through the breast-cone. After eating the bird, I add the bones to my collection for a future chicken stock.

See also: 1. Poultry & Fowl Menu; 1. Brining Chicken; 3. Cornish Game Hens, Grouse, Pheasant & Other Small Fowl;

Cumin & Honey Roast Chicken or Game Hens, Spanish Style

This recipe is adapted from (1)You can use chicken pieces or cornish game hens, halved. Serves 4.

For this recipe, I use the meaty pieces of a whole chicken; when I use a game hen, I only use one for a half recipe, and I butterfly it. The original marinade ingredients are too sweet for my taste; I’ve updated accordingly, but include the original amounts in parenthesis, where appropriate).

Ingredients & Equipment:

  • Chicken pieces, bone-in, skin on: 2 breast halves, 2 thighs, 2 drumsticks, 2 wings. Or use 2 Cornish Game hens, halved, bone-in, skin-on.
  • ½ Tbsp unrefined sea salt (use only if you don’t brine the meat)
  • 4 oz (about 16) dried apricots
  • 24 green & black assorted brined olives, pitted
  • 4 sprigs Italian parsley or cilantro, for garnish.
  • Marinade
  • 5 large whole cloves garlic, peeled
  • ⅓ cup sherry vinegar
  • ⅓ cup freshly squeezed orange juice (If using frozen juice concentrate, use 1 – 2 tsp of the concentrate, then add filtered water to make ⅓ cup)
  • ½ – 1 Tbsp raw honey (original amount: ¼ cup)
  • 3 Tbsp olive oil
  • 4 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 ½ tsp paprika
  • Equipment 
  • small bowl
  • large bowl or casserole dish, with lid
  • One 10 x 15 or two 7 x 11 Pyrex or ceramic baking dishes


  1.  Prep: Cut up chicken. Press down on breast pieces with palm of your hand to flatten slightly – allowing rib cartilage to pop away or break in half. If using game hens, butterfly them, then cut in half through the breast cartilage & bone.
  2. Brining (optional): NOTE: If you brine your bird, you will not need added salt.
  3. If you choose to brine the pieces, eliminate salt in the marinating process.  For chicken pieces: use 2 – 4 quarts of brine, 1 – 1.5 hours; For 2 game hens: use 11 cups brine – no sugar in brine, 2 – 3 hours.
  4. Marinate: If using a tiny pinch of stevia powder instead of honey, dissolve it in the orange juice and let rest while you mince the garlic.
  5. Mince whole garlic cloves fine, sprinkle salt over (if using) then press with side of knife blade to make a paste. Should have 1.5 – 2 Tbsp. Set aside.
  6. Combine remaining marinade ingredients with orange juice/stevia (if using) in a small bowl, and whisk until thoroughly combined. Set aside.
  7. Poke 3 – 4 slits in both sides of each chicken piece, to help the marinade penetrate. Place in glass or stainless steel bowl. Add salt and toss. Add garlic paste and toss again. Add marinade and toss to coat, using hands to distribute evenly.
  8. Add apricots and olives and toss again. Cover bowl (original uses plastic wrap, but I cover with waxed paper and then the lid). Refrigerate at least 6 hours and up to 24 hours.
  9. Roast: Time for this step: warming on counter for about 30 minutes; roasting takes about 1 ½ hours for chicken, more for game hen.
  10. Preheat oven to 400° F.
  11. Take marinating chicken out of fridge and transfer to baking dish(s). Adjust pieces so the skin side is up and they are evenly spaced. Tuck apricots and olives under and around the pieces. Sprinkle each piece with a pinch of salt. Let rest 20 – 60 minutes on counter to warm to room temperature – this helps chicken to roast more evenly.
  12. Place pan(s) in oven to roast. After 30 minutes, baste occasionally with pan juices, to help brown the skin and keep the meat moist. Continue to roast, basting every 15 minutes, for about 1 hour, until chicken is done – the meat will be deep brown and the pan juices are reduced; total roasting time 90 minutes. Game hen may take 15 minutes longer. A paring knife will slide easily into a thigh.
  13. NOTE: the pan juices cook down during the roasting time, and may separate, with the fat on top, and the thick juices below.
  14. Pan Sauce: NOTE: I’ve decided not to make the sauce because it’s too sweet. I just used the drippings for basting while roasting. See testing 4/1/2014 below.
  15. This works best if you make the sauce while the pan is still hot. If it has cooled, use hot water to make the sauce, or put the pan back in the oven to warm.
  16. Transfer chicken to cutting board and tent with foil. Transfer apricots and olives to small bowl and reserve.
  17. Tilt pan so juices run into a corner, then spoon off as much fat as possible without disturbing the juices and drippings. Add 2 Tbsp water to pan and use wooden spoon to scrape off pan drippings from sides and bottom of pan, stirring to make a thick sauce. Taste; if too intense, add more water. If not flavorful enough, keep scraping and stirring.
  18. To Serve:
  19. Cut each half-breast in half through the intersection of bone and cartilage of the breastbone. This makes 4 breast pieces.
  20. Serve one breast piece with a thigh, or with a drumstick & wing for each serving. Add a few reserved apricots and olives, and a few spoonsful of sauce to each serving. Garnish with sprig of parsley or cilantro.


4/14-15/2012: Using one game hen for a half recipe. Brined 1 hour, rinsed, dried off, then let sit in fridge overnight for the skin to dry out. Next day: Used for marinade: 3 ½ tsp each sherry wine and white wine vinegar (because I didn’t have sherry vinegar), 3 tsp orange juice concentrate with 4 tsp water (because I didn’t have a fresh orange), 2 Tbsp honey; 1 ½ Tbsp olive oil, 2 tsp cumin and 1 tsp paprika. Added garlic and marinade to hen in baking dish, tucked olives & dried Turkish apricots around the meat, and set in fridge to marinate 8 hours or so. The pan juices thickened up nicely with a little added arrowroot powder dissolved in water. Result: This dish is beautiful! And very tasty; however, it was a little too sweet – I should have used less orange juice concentrate and more water, and perhaps also less honey. But also, because this is a small bird, there is less meat than with chicken, so need less sweetener.

8/13-14/2012: Again made with one game hen for half recipe as before, except used reduced amount of honey, and I got some sherry vinegar. Didn’t need thickener for the sauce – it thickened nicely upon reduction. Result: Very good, but still too sweet for me. I think I should either eliminate the orange juice or the honey. Since the oranges are most Spanish, I’ll keep the juice and eliminate the honey next time. OR replace the sugar with stevia.

9/7-8/13: Made with one game hen for half recipe, and forgot to decrease honey. Hopefully next time I’ll remember to use stevia. I have a new meat thermometer that is oven-safe, so it was easier to know when the bird was done. Result: Except for being too sweet it really is quite good.

4/1 – 2/14: Made one game hen for half recipe. Reduced OJ to ½ tsp frozen concentrate and 2 Tbsp water; reduced honey to 1 tsp. Otherwise as written. Roasted 30 minutes, then started basting every 15 min for 1 hour 15 minutes total baking time. Perfectly done; nicely burnished. Did not make sauce with drippings to avoid the sweet. Result: The best batch yet – exquisite!

Serving ideas

  • Serve with Wild Rice,  Steamed Brown Rice, or small roasted potatoes. Seared green beans make an excellent accompaniment.


  1. recipe

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