The baby chickens called poussins by the French are often tastier than large supermarket chickens because they are not mass-produced. If you cannot find poussins for this recipe, use Cornish game hens, which are about the same size as poussins but more widely available. (Look for Cornish game hens in the frozen food section of your local supermarket.)
This is really coq au vin, miniaturized. All the same elements are there: bacon, pearl onions, red wine. After browning your ingredients, you must make sure the flavors don’t vaporize. Tightly covered cooking is key here. The best pot for the job is an earthenware casserole, the kind you have to soak first. If you are lucky enough to own one of these, do your browning and deglazing in a skillet and then transfer the ingredients to the casserole. If you are not the happy owner of an earthenware casserole, just make the whole thing in a casserole with a tight-fitting lid. Serve with Creamed Spinach with Crispy Shallots (Sara Moulton Cooks at Home, page 234) and Mashed Potato Cakes (Sara Moulton Cooks at Home, page 249) or Herbed Spaetzle (Sara Moulton Cooks at Home, page 259).
3/4 pound pearl onions
12 to 15 baby carrots, about 3/4 pound, or 4 medium carrots, cut into 1-inch pieces
4 poussins, about 1 pound each
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 small lemon, quartered
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/2 pound cultivated white mushrooms, halved or quartered if large
6 ounces smoked ham, cut into 1/2-inch dice
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon minced fresh sage leaves or 1 teaspoon dried
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves or 3/4 teaspoon dried
1/2 cup dry red wine
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh parsley
Bring a pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the onions and cook 1 minute. Remove with a slotted spoon and transfer to a bowl of cold water. Let cool 10 minutes and peel. Add the carrots to the pot and boil until slightly tender, about 5 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Rinse the poussins and pat dry with paper towels. Season the cavities with salt and pepper. Place a quarter of lemon in each cavity and tie the legs together. Season the exteriors with salt and pepper.
Heat the oil in a large covered casserole over medium-high heat until almost smoking. Add the poussins and cook, turning often, until browned on all sides, 7 to 10 minutes. Transfer to a plate or platter. Add the onions, carrots, mushrooms, and ham to the casserole. Cook, stirring often, until lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, sage, thyme, and red wine. Stir well and add the poussins along with any juices that have accumulated on the plate. Cover with a buttered round of parchment or wax paper and the lid. Transfer to the oven and bake until the juices from the thighs run clear when pierced with a skewer, about 45 minutes.
Transfer the poussins to a large warmed platter and remove the strings. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the vegetables to the platter. Cover loosely with foil. Place the casserole on top of the stove over high heat. Bring the pan juices to a boil and cook, stirring often, until reduced by half. Stir in the parsley and any accumulated juices from the platter. Season the sauce with salt and pepper and pour over the poussins just before serving.