This Roasted Cornish Game Hen recipe is an easy way to create a truly impressive meal. Cornish hens are coated with a butter-herb rub and roasted to tender perfection over a bed of carrots, onions and lemon.
Serve them drizzled with the flavorful pan juices or make the optional gravy for a fancy alternative to whole roasted chicken.
Whether you’re looking to scale down to feed less people for the holidays or just want a special dinner for any occasion, Roasted Cornish Game Hens are a great choice. Roast Chicken and Vegetables is a regular fall and winter meal for us, but these little hens are a fun way to do something a little different.
They may look fancy but Cornish hens are so very easy to make. In fact, they were on the menu the first time I cooked dinner for my husband (then, boyfriend) when I was just 18 years old.
I wanted to cook something special for this guy and my sister, Barb, suggested Cornish game hens. It was a genius choice. Totally easy, but so impressive – a meal that we still remember decades later. Those little hens may have sealed the deal!
The moral of this story is that if my 18 year old self could successfully roast Cornish hens, so can you!
Table of contents
Why You’ll Love this Recipe
- Budget-friendly – Cornish game hens have a reputation of being expensive, but they are actually a very economical choice for a special meal. Check Costco or your local big box store for a great price.
- Availability – You can find frozen Cornish hens in a two-pack in most grocery stores all year long.
- Fast and Easy – These little birds are a fancy alternative to a whole roast chicken or turkey but they cook quickly and are easier to prepare.
- Optional Gravy – As they roast over a bed of aromatics, these little hens create flavorful pan juices. Use them to make an easy gravy or just spoon the juices over the roasted Cornish hens.
- Cornish game hens – I used a 2-pack of frozen Tyson Premium Cornish Hens. Each hen weighs about 1 ¼ to 1 ½ pounds which is a generous serving for one or see the instructions below to split them.
- Aromatics – Yellow onion, carrots, lemon, and fresh rosemary sprigs. The aromatics serve two purposes – they raise the hens off the bottom of the baking dish while they roast and add great flavor to the pan juices.
- Butter herb rub – Softened butter, extra virgin olive oil, paprika, garlic powder, dried crushed rosemary, dried thyme, kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. The intensity of dried herbs works really well in rubs.
- Optional gravy – Low sodium chicken broth, cornstarch, water, butter, salt and pepper. You can add a few drops of browning sauce, like Kitchen Bouquet for a richer, deeper color if you’d like.
Thawing Cornish Hens
Thaw frozen hens safely and completely for 1 to 2 days in the refrigerator before cooking. Set them on a rimmed baking sheet to catch any juices that might escape the packaging.
How to Roast Cornish Game Hens
- Combine the butter, olive oil, and seasonings for the rub in a small bowl and set aside.
- Place the onion and carrot chunks in the bottom of a 13- x 9-inch baking dish and lay the lemon and sprigs of rosemary over the top.
- Pat the hens dry with paper towels. Spread a little of the rub inside the cavity of each hen then generously coat all over the outside, reserving a small amount of the rub for later. Set the seasoned hens on top of the aromatics.
- Tie the legs with kitchen twine, if desired and pat the hens with the remaining butter herb rub to cover any unseasoned areas. Roast for 40 to 45 minutes, rotating the baking dish halfway through to ensure even cooking. The hens are done with the skin is golden brown and a meat thermometer inserted into the thickest portion of meat registers 165 degrees F.
The Pan Drippings and Optional Gravy
- Discard the aromatics and pour the pan drippings from the roasting pan through a fine mesh strainer into a small bowl. Serve the pan juices with the roasted hens.
- Or, for the optional gravy, add chicken broth to the strained pan juices and thicken it with a cornstarch slurry. See the recipe card for the detailed instructions.
Splitting Roasted Cornish Game Hens
A whole roasted Cornish hen makes for a nice presentation but at over 1 pound, it’s a pretty hefty serving for one.
If you’d like to split them, be sure to let them rest for 10 minutes first. Then, set one of the roasted hens on a cutting board and press a sharp serrated knife down into the center of the breast. Then, use a sawing motion to cut all the way through to cut the hen in half.
FAQ and Valerie’s Tips
Despite their name, Cornish game hens are not game birds. They’re just mini chickens that are bred specifically to mature quickly to a final weight of less than 2 pounds. They are the result of cross-breeding between a Cornish chicken and white Plymouth rock hen and can be either male or female.
Cornish game hens taste similar to chicken but because they’re younger, the meat is exceptionally tender. So tender, you may not need a knife! Their flavor is not “gamey” but slightly sweeter and more delicate than chicken. They have a good amount of plump, meaty breast meat with a thin layer of fatty skin that keeps the meat moist while cooking.
Roasting Cornish game hens at 400 degrees F for about 45 to 50 minutes results in perfectly cooked hens with crispy skin. Cornish game hens should be cooked until the thickest portion reaches 165 degrees F when measured with an instant read meat thermometer.
To ensure the skin will brown and crisp, it’s best to cook Cornish game hens uncovered. If they brown too quickly, lightly tent them with a sheet of aluminum foil towards the end of the cooking time.
The short answer is yes but I prefer cooking my stuffing separately to easier control the outcome of each dish. If you do stuff them, be sure to measure the temperature of both the center of the stuffing and the thickest part of the Cornish hens to be sure that both reach a minimum safe level of 165 degrees F before removing them from the oven.
What to Serve with Cornish Game Hens
- Stuffing – Brioche Stuffing (pictured in this post) and Homemade Stovetop Stuffing are both great choices. Cornbread Stuffing with Sausage and Apples would also work very well.
- Potatoes – Sour Cream Mashed Potatoes, Scalloped Potatoes, or Roasted Sweet Potatoes.
- Vegetables – Honey Roasted Carrots and Brussels Sprouts, Sweet Baked Acorn Squash, or Bourbon Glazed Carrots.
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Roasted Cornish Game Hens
- 2 whole Cornish game hens, about 1½ pounds each
- 1 large sweet yellow onion, cut into wedges
- 2 to 3 carrots, cut in chunks
- 1 large lemon, sliced
- 3 to 4 sprigs fresh rosemary
Butter Herb Rub
- 2 tablespoons butter, softened
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 2 teaspoons paprika
- 1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt
- 1 ½ teaspoons garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon dried crushed rosemary
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme
- ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- ¾ cup low sodium chicken broth, or as needed
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch
- 1 tablespoon water
- 1 teaspoon butter
- Browning sauce like Kitchen Bouquet, optional
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- Combine the butter, olive oil, and seasonings for the rub in a small bowl and set aside.
- Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F. with the oven rack in the center position.
- Place the onion and carrot chunks in the bottom of a 13- x 9-inch baking dish (there should be enough aromatics to cover the bottom of the dish) and lay the lemon and sprigs of rosemary over the top.
- Pat the hens dry with paper towels. Spread a little of the rub inside each hen then generously coat all over the outside, reserving a small amount of the rub for later. Set the seasoned hens on top of the aromatics. Tie the legs with kitchen twine, if desired and pat the hens with the remaining butter herb rub to cover any unseasoned areas (some may have rubbed off).
- Roast for 25 minutes. Rotate the baking dish to ensure even cooking. Continue to roast for an additional 20 to 25 minutes, or until the skin is golden brown and a thermometer inserted into the thickest portion of meat registers 165 degrees F. Remove from the oven and let the hens rest in the pan for 5 minutes. Transfer hens to a cutting board and let rest an additional 5 minutes.
- Meanwhile, pour the pan drippings from the roasting pan through a fine mesh strainer into a small bowl. Or alternately, follow the directions for the gravy below. Discard the remaining aromatics in the baking dish.
For the Optional Gravy
- Strain the pan drippings through a mesh strainer into a measuring cup and let them rest for 10 to 15 minutes. Skim the fat from the top and add as much broth as needed to measure 1 cup (about ¾ cup broth). Add the mixture to a small saucepan and place over MEDIUM heat.
- Whisk together the cornstarch and water, add it to the saucepan and bring the mixture to a low boil. Add the butter and stir until melted and the gravy is slightly thickened. If you'd like a richer, darker colored gravy, add a 2 to 3 drops of browning sauce. Taste and season with salt and pepper, if needed. Remove from the heat and transfer to a small gravy boat or bowl.
- Serve the Cornish hens drizzled with the strained pan dripppings or optional gravy.
Nutrition information is automatically calculated using generic ingredients, and is an estimate not a guarantee. For more accurate results, please refer to the labels on your ingredients at home.