Sometimes I get tired of roasting a turkey for Thanksgiving every year (I know…gasp…sigh…how can I not roast a turkey?!) or I just don’t need the amount of meat a turkey gives. A nice alternative that usually goes on sale at the same time of year is Cornish hens. Still the similar flavors and textures but smaller and takes less time to thaw and to cook. Not to mention you can do several at once and use them for leftovers later.
If you’ve never tried Cornish hens and are wondering about the flavors, they have a slightly stronger, more gamey taste than chicken but are not as flavorful as a quail. The taste is light and savory, especially when well seasoned. Each hen will make two servings, giving each person a half a bird.
Cornish hens also work well for Christmas or any meal where you want to make it look like you spent hours preparing a meal. Cornish hens are easy! Just like with other types of meat, you do want to avoid overcooking and always let the birds rest for at least 15 minutes before you start slicing and dicing. But if you’re looking for a way to impress your in-laws, do a date night, or just want easier prep and less cooking time for a holiday meal, then consider using Cornish hens. You’ll be pleasantly surprised at how easy it is to make such an elegant meal with little effort.
You can season your hens anyway you like but I like to use fresh rosemary, sage and thyme, along with lemon, onion and garlic. Fennel, shallots and carrots also work well if you want even more flavor. Some sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, oh and I use the fresh lemon zest from the lemon. You can also toss an assortment of these veggies and any other of your choice around the hens while cooking to have roasted veggies at the end.
At this stage you should have already defrosted the Cornish hens or purchased fresh ones, frozen will not work here. Allow your hens to sit out of the fridge at least an hour before cooking to come to room temp then preheat the oven to 350°. Quarter up the onions, peel the garlic leaving it whole, and quarter the lemon (remove zest before cutting). The herbs you can leave whole and on the stem, except do strip one stem of the rosemary for sprinkling on top of the hens.
Now it’s time to prep your bird. Wash the hens in warm water and then dry, inside and out. Next sprinklethe insides heavily or to your tastes with salt and pepper. Mix together the onion, lemon, garlic and herbs and stuff into the cavities of the Cornish hens. Once stuffed sprinkle areas such as behind the wings and legs with salt and pepper before tying up the bird. After tied, rub the the hens with olive oil to coat the skin, then sprinkle heavily with salt, pepper, lemon zest and rosemary. Place in a baking dish with the breast side up. Roast for 55 minutes for hens weighing 1 pound and 1 hour 15 minutes for ones weighing 1.25 to 1.5 pounds.
Once your birds are roasted, remove from the oven and tent with tinfoil for at least 15 minutes before craving to allow them to rest. If you cut before, all your juices will run out of the Cornish hens and the meat will be dry. Make sure you leave time for resting.
The mixture of onions, garlic, lemon and herbs just soak through the meat while the birds are roasting, creating a wonderful earthy balance to the dish. Pair with fall root veggies such as sweet potatoes and turnips or more heavily flavored ones such as butternut squash, kale and brussel sprouts. Risotto, wild rice or stuffing also work well. Serve up all these beautiful flavors of life with a wine such as Pinot Noir, Riesling or the classic wine to bird pairing, a Chardonnay.
More Cornish Hen Recipes