Cornish hen really does rock

By / Food / October 10th, 2017 / 10

In North America, the Rock Cornish game hen isn’t a game hen at all, but a breed of small chicken with a higher ratio of white meat to dark meat than in traditional chickens. A cross between the Cornish game and Plymouth Rock breeds, the Cornish hen was reputedly bred in the mid-1950s by a Connecticut farming couple.

It weighs between one and two pounds and will serve one person. A duo of roasted Cornish hens, nestled in a bed of roasted winter vegetables, makes a perfect main course for a romantic dîner pour deux.

Other than roasting, the hens can be “spatchcocked” (split in half) and barbecued on the grill. The hens cook quickly and are ready to eat after reaching an internal temperature of 180˚F. Cornish hens need about an hour in the oven at 350˚F; if stuffed, an hour and 15 minutes. Split hens cooked on the grill or under the broiler will take about 25 to 45 minutes. In every case, use a meat thermometer and watch for the juices to run clear.

To stuff, use about 1 cup of a traditional bread stuffing or try a packaged cooked brown and wild rice pilaf. Add slivered almonds, minced dried apricots or cranberries to the pilaf for an interesting twist. You might also want to add grainy goodness by stuffing with a quinoa or barley pilaf.

Because it is not actually a game bird, the Cornish hen’s flavour is not gamey at all but more of a delicate “chicken lite.”

rosemary garlic cornish hens

serves 2

Change this recipe by using an orange, orange juice and tarragon instead of the lemon and rosemary. Shallots can stand in for the garlic as well. Cut carrots, parsnips and butternut squash into cubes, toss with olive oil and roast on a separate baking sheet along with the hens.

2 Cornish game hens
2 tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
3 sprigs fresh rosemary
1 small lemon, halved
12 cloves garlic, peeled
1/3 cup dry white wine
1/3 cup chicken broth
1 tbsp lemon juice

Preheat oven to 350˚F.

Rinse hens and pat dry. Rub with 1 tbsp of the olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Crumble leaves from 1 sprig rosemary over chicken. Place 1 lemon wedge and 1 sprig rosemary in cavity of each hen. Place in a roasting pan and arrange garlic cloves around hens. Roast, uncovered, 30 minutes.

In a medium bowl, whisk together wine, chicken broth, lemon juice and remaining 1 tbsp oil; pour over hens. Continue roasting about 30 minutes longer until cooked through, occasionally basting with pan juices.

Match: Pour a Sauvignon Blanc.

honey butter glazed cornish hens

Nothing says lovin’ better than a generous dollop of honey butter as a basting sauce. The Dijon mustard adds a bit of heat. Try substituting Sriracha or buffalo wing sauce instead, adding more or less to taste.

1/2 cup butter, melted
1/2 cup honey
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
2 Cornish game hens

Preheat oven to 350˚F.

In a medium bowl, combine butter, honey and mustard. Arrange hens in roasting pan.

Roast 30 minutes. Pour honey butter over hens and roast an additional 30 minutes until cooked through, basting occasionally.

Match: Good with a Chenin Blanc.

Montreal Spiced Grilled Cornish Hens

Montreal steak and chicken seasonings are my go-to spice blends for when I want big and bold flavour. In this basic recipe, any piquant seasoning mix of your choice will do. Think Thai, tandoori and Cajun as well.

2 tbsp olive oil
1 1/2 tbsp Montreal Chicken Seasoning
2 Cornish game hens, each split in half (spatchcocked)

In a small bowl, mix oil and seasoning. Rub over hens. Grill over medium-low heat with lid closed 25 to 30 minutes or until cooked through, turning frequently.

Match: Try with a sparkling rosé.


Quench Food Editor, Nancy Johnson, minced, sliced, chopped, sautéed and sipped her way through George Brown College’s culinary program with a focus on food writing and wine. Nancy cooks by the code her Italian grandmother taught her: For the best results, always use the freshest, best ingredients. She writes for Ohio-based Wine Buzz Magazine and recently published a short story in Woman’s World Magazine. She is always on a diet.

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