There is nothing like the juicy, succulent meat and crispy golden skin of a perfectly cooked Cornish hen. Everyone gets their own whole Cornish hen and they are always exciting!
These little birds are a great alternative to roasting a larger chicken. They deliver the same comfort food flavor in less time. Just in a smaller form.
This Cornish hen recipe is always a favorite. After you make it the first time, you’ll want it on repeat.
These delicious Cornish hens have all the qualities of roast chicken: golden, crackling skin and the heavenly aroma filling the kitchen when they are cooking.
The cavity of each bird is filled with lemon wedges, yellow onion wedges and aromatic fresh herbs. They are also basted with a simple infused olive oil-butter mixture leaving the birds juicy and the skin perfect.
With a cooking time of under an hour, there is plenty of time to whip up some side dishes like Roasted Garlic Buttermilk Smashed Potatoes or a beautiful Winter Salad with Warm Cranberry Honey Dressing while the birds are cooking to make a special meal for all who share it together!
What Is a Cornish Hen?
Also known as Cornish Rock Hens, Cornish Game Hens or Rock Cornish Game hens are chicken hybrid small enough for a single serving entrée. They are a cross between Cornish chickens and a White Plymouth Rock chicken.
These little birds can actually be male or female so technically are not all hens. They are also NOT game birds as the name suggests.
They are harvested young usually weighing under 2 pounds, somewhere between a 1-1 ½ pounds making them much smaller than a regular chicken.
Despite their size the breast meat is usually ample making them a delicious choice for everyday or holiday dinners.
Why you’ll love this recipe
- These little birds make a beautiful presentation and are a delicious one-person entrée.
- They automatically elevate the dinner plate to a restaurant-like feel with no extra effort from you!
- They are easier than making a whole roast chicken.
- Great for entertaining, Friendsgiving or Thanksgiving if wanting a break from making a whole turkey (and they are much faster and less fussy to cook).
Recipe Ingredients + Notes
Full list of ingredients found in the recipe card below.
Cornish hens. Choose 1 1/4-1 1/2 pound hens. Try to get hens the same size so they will all cook in the same amount of time. You’ll find these at the grocery store and they can often be frozen (check with your meat department). If frozen fully thaw before starting the recipe.
Where to Buy Cornish Game Hens?
Cornish Game Hens are sold at most grocery stores usually individually wrapped and in with the frozen. At this time of year, you may be able to find them with the butcher fresh as well.
Since are usually sold frozen they need to thaw fully before cooking. The price for a 1 ¼ pound bird is around $6 making them reasonably priced as well.
Supplies you’ll need
- Large Baking Dish (13-inch by 9-inch was used for this recipe; link to the baking dish shown here) or shallow roasting pan
- Instant Read Thermometer
- Butcher’s Twine. I like to buy my twine in a compact dispenser with a blade for easily cutting the twine to the length needed without having to look for scissors to do it!
Trussing the Cornish Hens
‘Trussing’ is the tying of the legs of a chicken or bird before cooking. It sometimes refers to the wings too but that doesn’t apply with Cornish hens.
Trussing a bird closes off the cavity which prevents too much hot air from circulating into the bird and drying out the breast as it cooks. When it is stuffed trussing also helps keep the stuffing inside the chicken or Cornish hen.
Butchers twine, also called kitchen twine, is typically used for trussing. It’s 100% cotton and holds the legs in place during cooking. There is a link in the Supplies.
A trick I use when tying the legs together is to double an 8-10 inch length of butcher twine, hold the loop (the middle of the double twine) at the curve just below the end of a drumstick, thread the remaining twine through the loop and pull until it’s snug, not overly tight.
This provides a secure anchor for the twine. From here, weave the twine around the two leg ends and tie together. Refer to photos for final result.
How to Make Cornish Hen – Step-by-Step Instructions
STEP 1. Preparation
Allow the Cornish hens to come to room temperature by taking them out of the refrigerator 1 hour before cooking.
Set the oven rack in the middle of the oven. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.
STEP 2. Make basting sauce
In a small sauce pan over medium-low heat, combine the olive oil and unsalted butter. Once the butter has melted add the shallot, garlic, rosemary sprigs and lemon slices. Allow to simmer for 3 minutes and then remove from the heat to cool and infuse.
STEP 3. Prepare the Cornish hens
Combine the salt and black pepper in a small bowl. Rub over the hens externally as well as inside the cavity of each hen.
Stuff each hen with 1-2 onion wedges, 1 lemon wedge, 2 thyme sprigs, 2 rosemary sprig halves, 2 sage leaves. Tie the legs together with butcher twine, in a crossed position but not overly tightly (see Trussing section for a trick!)
STEP 4. Cook
Spray the sides of an 11-inch by 13-inch baking pan or shallow roasting pan (this helps prevent the sides of the hens from sticking to the pan while cooking), add remaining lemon slices and any of the onion wedges that were not stuffed into the hens (separate them into pieces).
Baste the hens fully and place breast side up in the baking pan.
Cook on 425 degrees for 30 minutes.
Lower temperature to 350 and cook an additional 20 minutes.
When an instant read thermometer Insert an instant read food thermometer into the thickest part of the thigh. When the instant read thermometer reaches 165 degrees (the juices should run clear as well), remove the pan from the oven and allow the hens to rest for 15 minutes before serving.
Reserve the flavorful pan juices to drizzle over the hens when serving.
Onion trick. Instead of cutting off the ends of the onion, peel the onion and cut through the root end but leave it intact. That functions to hold the onion wedge together, making it easier to handle when inserting it into the hen’s cavity.
Trussing trick. Don’t have Butcher’s twine? You can also secure the legs by wrapping a piece of aluminum foil around them or secure with toothpicks.
Stuffing the hen. Hen cavity sizes vary so if there is excess onion or lemon which cannot fit, add it to the base of the roasting pan before placing the hens on top. This will add to the flavor of the pan juices which are drizzled over the hens when serving.
How to Store
Remove the stuffing from the cooked hens and store the birds in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 3-4 days.
More recipes you’ll love!
Roasted Cornish Hens
- 4 Cornish Game Hens each 1 ¼-1 ½ pounds (all hens the same size); fully thawed if frozen
- 2 teaspoons Kosher Salt
- 2 teaspoons Black Pepper , freshly ground
- 2 small Lemons 1 cut into 4 wedges lengthwise, the other sliced crosswise into paper thin slices
- 1 small Yellow Onion , cut lengthwise into 8 wedges leaving the root end intact*
- 8 sprigs fresh Thyme
- 5 sprigs fresh Rosemary each cut in half
- 8 fresh Sage leaves
Ingredients for the Basting liquid:
- 3 tablespoons Olive Oil
- 1 teaspoon Unsalted Butter
- 1 small Shallot , diced
- 2 medium Garlic Cloves , diced
- 1 sprig Rosemary
- 3 slices Lemon (see ingredients above)
- Set the Cornish hens out to come to room temperature about 1 hour before cooking. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees and set a rack to the middle position of the oven.
- While the hens are coming to room temperature, make the basting sauce. In a small sauce pan over medium-low heat, combine the olive oil and butter.
- Once the butter has melted add the shallot, garlic, rosemary and lemon slices. Allow to simmer for 3 minutes and then remove from the heat to cool and infuse.
- Stuff each hen with 1-2 onion wedges, 1 lemon wedge, 2 sprigs of thyme, 2 rosemary sprig halves, 2 sage leaves. Tie the legs together with butcher twine, in a crossed position but not overly tightly.
- Spray the sides of an 11-inch by 13-inch baking pan (this helps prevent the sides of the hens from sticking to the pan while cooking), add remaining lemon slices and any of the onion wedges that were not stuffed into the hens (separate them into pieces).
- Baste the hens fully and place them with breasts up in the baking pan. Cook on 425 degrees for 30 minutes.
- Lower the heat to 350 and cook an additional 20 minutes. When an instant read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh reads 165 degrees remove the pan from the oven.
- Allow the hens to rest for 15 minutes before serving. Reserve the flavorful pan juices to drizzle over the hens when serving.
Originally published: November 2015