Cornish Game Hens add a special touch to any meal. This recipe for Lemon Herb roasting them is so easy and they cook in less than an hour!
Originally published November 2015; Updated October 2018
One of my fondest childhood dinner memories was when my mom would serve Cornish Game Hens. They appear as a whole chicken in minature and each are served as an individual main dish to the delight and surprise for the diner.
They are very easy to prepare and perfect anytime; including as a possible change up for Thanksgiving or Christmas meals, when wanting something fantastic but with far less time and effort.
What Is a Cornish Game Hen?
Also known as Cornish Rock Hens, these diminutive hens (which actually can be male or female) are not at all a game bird but rather a chicken hybrid small enough for a single serving entrée.
Usually weighing between a 1-1 ½ pounds, they have a presence that automatically feels exotic and special in my book. Who doesn’t feel having an entire bird for themselves is unique?
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.
Why Make Cornish Game Hens
As you can see from the photos, 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 as easy as a whole roast chicken to make. 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).
How to Cook Cornish Game Hens
I like to roast them and multiple Cornish game hens fit in one large baking dish making it an easy thing to do. It takes less than an hour.
Lemon Herb Roasted Cornish Game Hens Recipe
When roasting chickens I love to salt and pepper the whole bird and add lemons to the cavity which gives the meat a delicious flavor.
For these birds I wanted to recreate the lovely roasted taste and appearance with the golden, crackling skin and the heavenly aroma filling the kitchen when they are cooking.
The cavity of the Cornish game hens are filled with lemon wedges, onion wedges and aromatic 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!
Trussing the Cornish Game 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 game 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 game 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 below to learn more.
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.
TIP: Don’t have Butcher’s twine? You can also secure the legs by wrapping a piece of foil around them or secure with toothpicks.
Supplies for making Cornish Game Hens
- Large Baking Dish (13-inch by 9-inch was used for this recipe; link to the baking dish shown here)
- 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!
If you’ve made this Lemon Herb Roasted Cornish Game Hens recipe please RATE THE RECIPE below!
How to Make this Cornish Game Hens recipe – Step by Step:
Lemon Herb Roasted Cornish Game Hens
- 4 Cornish Game Hens , 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
- Butcher’s twine
- Instant read thermometer
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 of the 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.
Rinse the hens inside and out, and pat fully dry with paper towels. Combine the salt and pepper and rub over the hens externally as well as inside the cavity.
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 hen (usually the thigh or breast) reads 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.
*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.
**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.