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Want to impress your family with a fancy, yet effortless meal at home? This roasted Cornish hen recipe is a kind of “set it and forget it” meal that everyone will think you spent the entire day in the kitchen making. But, in reality, Cornish game hens make an easy and quick dinner!
When I spotted these at the store, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to try roasting them. To my surprise, the roasted Cornish hens were even more tender than the oven roasted chicken or slow cooker whole chicken I’ve made before! (Turns out, they are known for this.) And with aromatic herbs and zesty citrus, this recipe looks gourmet enough for a date night at home or holiday meal… without a lot of hands-on prep.
Why You’ll Love This Cornish Hen Recipe
- Super tender, juicy meat
- Aromatic flavors
- Simple pantry ingredients
- Easy to make
- Hands-off cooking
- Gourmet experience with very little effort
What Is A Cornish Hen?
A Cornish hen, sometimes called a Cornish game hen, is a small breed of chicken known for its tender meat. Despite the name, these hens are not game birds at all, but rather a type of domesticated chicken. They typically weigh 1 to 2 pounds and are often roasted whole or split in half, making them elegant and convenient for individual servings.
Ingredients & Substitutions
This section explains how to choose the best ingredients for Cornish game hen, what each one does in the recipe, and substitution options. For measurements, see the recipe card below.
- Cornish Game Hens – You can usually find Cornish hens in the poultry section of most grocery stores, or at the butcher. Look for birds that are plump, with firm skin.
- Sea Salt & Black Pepper
- Garlic – Placing whole cloves in the cavity of the bird adds flavor to the meat as it roasts. If you don’t have any on hand, you can use 1/2 teaspoon of garlic powder in the seasoning mixture over the skin instead.
- Fresh Herbs – You will need sprigs of fresh rosemary and thyme for the cavity of the bird, plus more of them chopped for seasoning the outside. If you only have dried herbs on hand, use 1 teaspoon of each type on the skin and rub some extra inside the cavity. You can also use other fresh herbs, like sage, parsley, or marjoram, to add different flavors to your roasted Cornish hen.
- Lemons – Since we are using both the juice and the zest, you will need fresh lemons. If you like, you can replace the lemons with orange juice and zest for a sweeter flavor.
- Olive Oil – This adds flavor and helps the seasonings stick. You can use other heat-safe oils here, such as avocado oil.
- Chicken Broth – Broth at the bottom of the baking dish helps keep the Cornish hen recipe moist. I used reduced-sodium chicken broth simply because that’s what I always buy, but you can use regular chicken broth or even bone broth if you prefer.
How To Cook Cornish Hens
This section shows how to cook a Cornish hen in the oven, with step-by-step photos and details about the technique, to help you visualize it. For full instructions, including amounts and temperatures, see the recipe card below.
- Season with salt and pepper. Pat the Cornish hens dry with paper towels. Season the inside and outside of the hens liberally with salt and pepper.
- Stuff the cavity. Place the garlic cloves, rosemary sprigs, thyme sprigs, and lemon cubes inside the cavity of each hen.
- Tie to seal. Tie legs of the hens together with kitchen twine and tuck the wing tips under the body.
- Mix the seasonings. In a small bowl, whisk together the olive oil, chopped rosemary, chopped thyme, and lemon zest and juice.
- Season the outside. Brush the olive oil and herb mixture all over the outside of the hens.
- Add broth. Place the hens in a roasting pan with a rack, breast side down. Pour the chicken broth into the bottom of the pan, along with any leftover lemon wedges.
TIP: Cooking Cornish hens breast side down makes the breast meat more juicy.
This is because the juices will naturally settle in the breast meat as they cook.
- Bake. Roast the Cornish hen recipe, basting with pan drippings, until golden brown and a meat thermometer inserted into the thickest part reads 165 degrees F.
- Rest. Remove from the oven. Tent the top with aluminum foil and rest to let the juices settle.
Variations On Cornish Game Hens
- Compound butter under the skin – I kept this Cornish hen recipe simple for quick prep, since the meat is naturally so tender already. But if you want to make it even more special, make a batch of compound butter and rub 1-2 tablespoons underneath the skin of each bird before stuffing the cavity.
- Roast on a bed of onions – Instead of a roasting pan with a rack, chop a large onion into large chunks and arrange in the bottom of a baking dish. Place the hens on top and proceed with the recipe as usual. The onions will raise them similar to a rack, but add extra flavor.
- Add vegetables – For a one-pan meal, add hearty vegetables, such as brussels sprouts or root vegetables, to the pan halfway through cooking. (Toss them in olive oil, salt, pepper, and any other seasonings you like first.)
- Store: Place meat from the Cornish hen recipe (with or without bones) in an airtight container with the juices, and store in the fridge for up to 3-4 days.
- Meal prep: Use leftovers to make chicken salad sandwiches, or shred them over a cobb salad or meal prep mason jar salads.
- Reheat: Just like chicken, you can reheat these in the microwave if you need to, but they stay more juicy if you warm them up in the oven at 350 degrees F.
- Freeze: Keep the meat in airtight freezer-safe containers or zip lock bags in the freezer for up to 3 months. Thaw in the refrigerator overnight before reheating.
What To Serve With Cornish Hen Recipes
Depending on the size of your Cornish hens, each one might be a full serving or half a serving. Mine were 1.5 pounds and plenty for two servings each. If that’s the case, slice them in half along the breastbone and backbone with a sharp knife or kitchen shears.
Like chicken recipes, this Cornish game hen recipe works alongside a variety of sides. Here are some of my favorite sides for an elegant meal:
- Mash – Mashed potatoes or mashed cauliflower (pictured above) are perfect for drizzling with the pan juices. You could also opt for easy oven roasted potatoes instead.
- Vegetables – For a quick and fancy side, pair these hens with elegant green beans almondine or sweet honey roasted carrots. For a comforting meal, try roasted delicata squash.
- Salad – My go-tos are a classic wedge salad or sweet kale salad, but virtually any salad recipe can pair with these hens.
- Kitchen Twine – A must for whole roasted poultry!
- Roasting Pan – I use this for all kinds of roasted meats, small and large.
- Meat Thermometer – This dual probe meat thermometer is the perfect way to know when your Cornish hens are the perfect internal temperature.
- Knife – In order to cut along the breastbone of the roasted Cornish hen, you’ll need a sharp knife or pair of kitchen shears to get the job done.
Cornish Hen Recipe
Cornish Hen Recipe (Tender & Easy!)
An easy, tender roasted Cornish hen recipe with garlic, fresh herbs, and lemon! These game hens are juicy and flavorful with minimal effort.
Tap underlined ingredients to see where to get them. Please turn Safari reader mode OFF to view ingredients.
Tap on the times in the instructions below to start a kitchen timer while you cook.
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F (220 degrees C).
Pat the Cornish hens dry with paper towels. Season the inside and outside of the hens liberally with salt and pepper.
Place 2 garlic cloves, 2 rosemary sprigs, 2 thyme sprigs, and half a lemon (cubed) inside the cavity of each hen (or as much as you can fit).
Tie the legs of the hens together with kitchen twine and tuck the wing tips under the body.
In a small bowl, mix together the olive oil, chopped rosemary, thyme leaves, and the zest and juice from the second lemon.
Rub the olive oil and herb mixture all over the outside of the hens.
Place the hens in a roasting pan with rack,, breast side down. Pour the chicken broth into the bottom of the pan, along with any leftover lemon pieces that didn’t fit inside the hen.
Roast Cornish hens in the oven for 50-60 minutes, or until the hens are golden brown and a meat thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh reads 165 degrees F (74 degrees C). Baste with the pan juices every 20 minutes.
Let the hens rest for 10 minutes before serving. This helps the juices redistribute throughout the meat, making it more moist and juicy.
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Serving size: 1/2 of a Cornish hen
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