Calvados, with its aroma of fruit and vanilla, adds another dimension to this basic French dish.
Poussins are 1-lb. squab chickens, larger and meatier than Cornish game hens. This classic Norman preparation, named for the superior calvados-producing region of Pays d'Auge, can be adapted to larger chickens, other fowl, and pork.
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 tbsp. softened butter
2 cups pearl onions
1⁄2 cup calvados
3⁄4 cup heavy cream
Preheat oven to 400°. Wash the bird thoroughly, then drain and dry with paper towels. Rub the chicken with salt inside and out. Pepper each one generously.
Truss chicken in this manner: Fold wing tips back beneath shoulders. Drumsticks should fit snugly against the tips of breastbone. Hold in place by tying the legs together with kitchen twine, then wrap long pieces of twine around the birds to hold things close to body, then wrap it back around the birds and close up tail pieces.
Rub birds with butter. Arrange in an ovenproof pan so they do not touch. Scatter unpeeled onions around birds. (For a less rustic dish, peel onions first by blanching them in boiling water for 1 minute, trimming their root ends, then slipping off skins.)
Place pan in lower third of oven and cook for at least 45 minutes, basting several times. Prick fat part of drumstick on 1 bird after 45 minutes. If juice runs clear and drumstick moves easily in its socket, birds are done.
Transfer chicken and onions to a serving platter. Scrape pan drippings into a saucepan with a rubber spatula, bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer for 2 minutes. Warm calvados, add to the pan juices, and flame. (Keep a pan lid nearby, in case it flares up.) When flames die out, stir in cream, and continue to reduce sauce until thickened. Adjust seasonings as needed with salt and pepper. Pour sauce over and around chicken and serve.