Pity the poor cornish game hen. In all this hoopla over lower-fat chickens and the promotion of turkey as a low-fat meat, the little bird has gotten lost in the shuffle. The typical cook's familiarity with the cornish hen has been limited to wild rice stuffings and dowdy dinner parties.

In fact, consumption of the small chicken -- a mixture of the Cornish gamecock and Plymouth rock hen -- isn't exactly booming. According to Bill Roenigk, an economist with the National Broiler Council, cornish game hens constitute only about 2 percent of overall broiler production. One hundred million of the hens are produced in the United States each year, compared with about 4.2 billion broilers.

This is a bird that got off on a wobbly foot. Although they first appeared in this country in the late 1800s, cornish game hens were initially introduced for a commercial market in the early 1950s by actor Victor Borge, who hit upon the idea of an individual-sized chicken for American consumers. Borge was rather unsuccessful in his promotion efforts, however, as commercial production didn't really take off until the '60s, according to Roenigk.

Neither the Broiler Council nor the U.S. Department of Agriculture collects nutritional data on the bird; they use regular broiler data.

According to Stephen Pretanik, director of science and technology at the Broiler Council, there is "no significant difference" in nutritional data between the cornish hen and the broiling chicken. Although the cornish hen is slaughtered at a younger age (four weeks as opposed to seven or eight for broilers), most compositional changes in birds occur after eight weeks, Pretanik said.

However, Ann Salisbury, spokesperson for Perdue, claims that a company analysis has shown that Perdue's cornish hens have 20 percent less fat than generic broilers. They are comparable in calories and fat to the company's new lower-fat chicken, she said. Salisbury noted that Perdue covets its cornish game hen breeding formula to the point that breeder birds are transported via guards and armored cars, lest someone steal them.

Luckily, their offspring -- as well as the birds produced by other companies -- are out in the open in supermarket cases and the following Express Lane meal takes advantage of that fact. This complete dinner -- prepared in about an hour -- is suitable for company, as well as a special family meal. As long as you have butter, oil, salt and pepper on the shelf, you're set to help update the cornish hen. This meal also takes advantage of the imported peaches appearing recently on produce shelves. EXPRESS LANE LIST: cornish game hens, curry powder, lemon, peaches, allspice, brown rice, cashews, broccoli. BROILED LEMON-CURRY CORNISH GAME HENS (4 servings)

Salt and pepper

2 cornish game hens, halved

3 tablespoons oil

2 tablespoons lemon juice

2 teaspoons curry powder or more to taste

*Salt and pepper the cornish hens. Combine oil, lemon juice and curry powder and stir until combined.

Place split hens skin side down on a broiler pan. Baste with lemon curry mixture and broil for 15 minutes. Turn hens and baste with remaining lemon curry mixture. Broil for additional 10 minutes, or until juices run clear. Serve hen halves surrounded with saute'ed peaches. SAUTEED SPICED PEACHES (4 servings)

* 2 tablespoons butter

1/4 teaspoon allspice

3 peaches, peeled and sliced

* Melt butter in a skillet. Add allspice and peaches and saute' over low heat for about 8 minutes, or just until fruit is soft. BROWN RICE AND CASHEWS Serve 2 cups cooked brown rice sprinkled with 1/3 cup cashews. li,2 STEAMED BROCCOLI li,2 Steam 2 cups broccoli florets, sprinkle with lemon juice and serve.