These stuffed Cornish Hens are sure to impress! Stuffed with a flavorful wild rice stuffing and slathered in a triple-herb butter, these cornish hens are elegant, absolutely delicious, and easier to make than you might think. This cornish game hen recipe is perfect for dinner parties, date night, and even Thanksgiving.
Roasted Cornish Hen Recipe with Wild Rice
Whether you’re looking for an alternative to your regular Thanksgiving menu or are in search of a great dinner party menu, this roasted cornish hen recipe will absolutely deliver. A few simple steps like brining, flipping the hens while roasting, roasting at two different temperature and slathering with an herb butter, results in the most juicy and tender chicken meat you can imagine.
To ensure each cornish hen is essentially a meal-all-in-one, we like to stuff the hens with a simple yet delicious wild rice stuffing. It’s savory and herby with pops of sweetness from dried cranberries. Pour a glass of wine and dinner is done!
One other thing to note: each step of this recipe takes a bit of time (brining and roasting). But keep in mind these minutes are largely hands-off. To cut down on cook time the day-of, prepare the stuffing up to 2 days in advance and store in the refrigerator.
What Are Roasted Cornish Hens?
Cornish hens, also called cornish game hens or rock cornish game hens, are a breed of chicken. Roasted cornish hens are basically roasted small chickens.
On average, a cornish hen weighs between 1 and 2 pounds. Because of the meat to bone ratio, a single hen is generally just enough for one serving, which is partially the beauty of them—each person gets some light meat, dark meat, and a bit of that delicious skin.
How to Roast Cornish Hens
For the best, most juicy roasted cornish game hens, we recommend starting them at a moderately high temperature before increasing the heat towards the end of cooking. This two-step roasting process allows the chicken to cook through evenly and take on a nice, golden color. Here’s how to make the best roasted cornish hens:
- Roast hens breast-side down on a wire rack set inside a baking sheet. The wire rack lifts the hens off of the sheet pan and allows air to circulate around it. Plus, by starting the hens breast side down, the drippings run down the hen into the breast which keep the lean meat juicy.
- After 25 minutes, flip the hens breast side up on the wire rack. Brush with herbed butter and add water to the sheet pan (this will also keep the meat moist). Roast for another 20-30 minutes until the cavities of the hens registers 150ºF.
- Increase oven temperature to 450ºF and continue roasting the hens until the cavities reach 160ºF, the breasts reach 165ºF and the thighs register 170ºF. (Use our favorite Instant-Read Thermometer to monitor the doneness.)
- Prep the hens: brine the hens for 2 hours (optional, but recommended). Rinse the hens, then thoroughly pat dry with paper towels.
- Make the herbed butter: mix together the softened butter, herbs, salt and pepper.
- Make the stuffing: prepare the stuffing and keep warm (or reheat) before stuffing the hens. For food safety reasons, it’s important that the stuffing is hot when spooned into the hens.
- Prep the pan: place a wire rack on a rimmed baking sheet and preheat your oven.
- Stuff the hens: stuff the hens with the warm wild rice stuffing and tie the legs together with kitchen twine. Place the hens, breast side down, on wire rack-lined baking sheet.
- Roast the hens: roast the hens until the backs start to turn golden brown, about 25 minutes. Spread some herb butter over the backs, then flip the hens, breast side up, and spread herb butter over breast and legs. Continue to roast the hens until the stuffed cavity registers 150ºF (65ºC). This will take about 25 minutes.
- Increase the oven temp: brush the breasts and legs with more herbed butter, increase the oven temperature to 450ºF (232ºC)—this helps with browning—and continue to roast until the stuffed cavity register 160ºF (71ºC). This last part of cooking will take about 15 minutes.
- Make the gravy: while the hens rest, make the gravy with the pan drippings.
How to Serve Cornish Game Hen
We like to serve one whole hen per person, especially if the hens are around 1 ½ pounds. If you’re cooking slightly larger hens (2 pounds), you can cut the roasted hens in half and serve a half per person. In this case, we recommend doubling the wild rice stuffing and serving the extra on the side.
To cut the roasted hens in half, slice between the breasts with a sharp Chefs knife or cleaver, then use some force to cut through the bone. If needed, use sharp kitchen shears to cut the bone.
Serve cornish hens with the pan-drippings gravy, or make a jus (see recipe notes for instructions). Garnish with a few sprigs of fresh rosemary, thyme sprigs and/or bunched of sage. We also like to dress it up with a winter fruit such as pomegranate or citrus.
What to Serve with Cornish Game Hens
Vegetable Side Dishes
We’ve got loads of vegetable side dishes for thanksgiving. Some of our favorites include our Roasted Beets & Carrots with Toasted Cumin Vinaigrette and Roasted Delicata Squash (sweet and salty—so good!).
If you’re looking for a mashed potato recipe, we’ve got some of those too! We also love a parnship mash for something a little different. And to mix up the menu even more, try our spectacular Savory Sweet Potato Casserole.
And because we’re big salad lovers over here, we think every Thanksgiving spread needs a salad (or two!). Some of our favorite salad recipes to serve with cornish hens include our uber-simple Fennel Salad, A modern and light Creamy Cucumber Salad, and of course our Apple Walnut Salad that’s to die for.
Dinner Rolls & Bread
Finally, we need to talk about dinner rolls and bread! We always love a batch of Japanese Milk Bread Rolls, but we also think there’s a time and place for our low-carb Nut & Seed Bread. Make these deli-style Kaiser Rolls to serve with the meal (then use as sandwich buns later). Or try this sweet potato version of classic dinner rolls.
Cornish hens, also called Rock Cornish Hens, are breed of chicken petit in size and young in age. Cornish hens are generally about 4 weeks old and weigh right around 1 ¼ pounds (though they can weigh up to 2 pounds). They look and taste like chicken, but are far smaller and richer in flavor.
The best temperature to cook cornish hens at is between 400ºF and 450ºF. In this recipe, we like to start the hens at 400ºF and finish them at 450ºF to achieve a nice brown and crisp skin.
We like to stuff cornish hens with our Wild Rice Stuffing Recipe but you can also stuff them with aromatics, herbs (like rosemary and thyme) and citrus to impart even more flavor.
The key to making really great tasting gravy is to use the drippings from the roasted cornish hens. Pour the drippings from the sheet pan into a liquid measuring cup and let the fat separate from the liquid. Measure out a few tablespoons for making the gravy, then skim off and discard the remaining fat. Use the remaining drippings in the gravy.
Cornish hens taste like chicken with a bit more richness. Cornish hens have a lower meat-to-bone ratio which means each piece of meat is a bit juicier and more savory.
Cornish game hens are not what they sounds like. They are not a hen (they can be male or female), they are not a game bird, and they are only partially a cornish chicken. Cornish hens are a cross-breed of cornish chickens (a large broiler chicken) and White Plymouth Rock hen or Malayn Fighting Cock. The result is a very small chicken that grows breasts quickly and are ready to be slaughtered in under 5 weeks. According to the USDA, in order for a chicken to be a cornish hen it must weigh between 1 and 2 pounds, must not be older than 5 weeks in age and can be either female or male.
Cornish hens are a cross-breed of cornish chickens (a large broiler chicken) and White Plymouth Rock hen or Malayn Fighting Cock. The bottom line: cornish hens are just small chickens.
Cornish hens are neither healthier or less healthy than regular chicken. If you’re looking for healthy chicken recipes, check out this list of 40+ Healthy Chicken Recipes.
Fresh cornish hens should be cooked or frozen within 1 day of purchasing. If you purchased frozen cornish hens, they can be stored in the freezer for up to 3 months.
Thawed, previously frozen cornish hens should be cooked within 1 day of purchasing.
Cooked cornish hens can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 3 days or frozen for up to 1 month.
Cornish Game Hen Recipe
- ¾ cup Morton kosher salt, or ½ cup table salt
- 4 Cornish game hens, each about 1 ½ pounds if possible, trimmed of extra fat, giblets removed
- 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
- 2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary
- Cracked black pepper
- 3 tablespoons whole-wheat flour (white or regular) or all-purpose flour
- ¼ cup dry white wine
- 2 ½ cups low-sodium chicken broth
Wild Rice Stuffing
- ¾ cups wild rice blend*
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- ½ cup chopped shallots
- ¼ cup minced carrot
- ¼ cup minced celery
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage
- ¼ cup dried tart cherries
- 2 tablespoons chopped parsley
- 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
- For the hens, dissolve salt in 3 quarts cold water in a large pot or bucket. Add hens, cover and refrigerate 2–3 hours. Remove hens, rinse thoroughly, and pat dry; prick skin all over breast and legs with point of a paring knife.
- Mash together 5 tablespoons butter, 1 tablespoon sage, thyme, rosemary, ½ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper in a small bowl; set aside.
Wild Rice Stuffing
- Meanwhile, for the stuffing, bring water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Stir in rice, bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low, cover and simmer until rice is cooked and fluffy, about 40 minutes.
- Heat 2 tablespoons butter in a medium sauté pan over medium-high. Add shallots, carrot, and celery; season with ¼ teaspoon salt and a pinch pepper; cook until vegetables are softened and starting to brown, 6–8 minutes. Stir in sage and cook 1 minute.
- Add cooked rice, cherries, parsley and vinegar, reduce heat to low and cook until warmed through. Remove from heat and set aside (or refrigerate) until ready to stuff hens.
- For the hens, adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 400ºF (204ºC). Place a wire rack inside a large rimmed baking sheet (at least 19-by-13–inch). Reheat stuffing in a sauté pan until steaming.
- Spoon ½ cup hot stuffing into cavity of each hen; tie each hens legs together with 6-inch piece of kitchen twine. Leaving as much space as possible between each hen, arrange them breast side down and wings facing out, on prepared rack-lined baking sheet. Roast until backs are golden brown, about 25 minutes.
- Remove sheet from oven, spread 1 teaspoon herb butter over back of each hen. Turn hens breast side up and wings facing out, and spread 2 teaspoons herb butter over breast and leg area of each hen. Return pan to oven, add 1 cup water to sheet pan, and roast until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the stuffed cavity registers about 150ºF (65ºC), about 20–30 minutes.
- Remove pan from oven again and spread 1 teaspoon herb butter over breast and leg area of each hen. Return sheet to oven, add another ½ cup water to sheet and increase oven temperature to 450ºF (232ºC).
- Roast until hens are spotty brown and cavity registers 160ºF (71ºC), 15–20 minutes more, depending on hen size. (You can also check thickest parts of breast, which should register 165ºF, and thickest part of thigh, which should register 170ºF). Remove hens from oven, spread remaining butter over each hen and rest 10 minutes.
- Meanwhile, pour drippings into a liquid measuring cup. Skim 3 tablespoons fat off top and add to a small saucepan over medium heat. Skim and discard remaining fat from drippings.
- Add flour to saucepan with fat and cook 2 minutes, whisking constantly. Slowly add remaining drippings, wine, and broth and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and cook until thickened, 5–8 minutes. Strain gravy through a fine mesh strainer into a serving dish or gravy boat.
- Serve cornish hens with gravy.
Tips for cooking Cornish Game Hens
- To ensure even cooking, buy cornish hens that are similar in weight.
- For moist, juicy meat, cook the hens to temperature instead of relying solely on cook time. Use an instant-read thermometer (affiliate, this is my fav kitchen tool) for accurate temperature readings.
- Pat the hens dry before roasting to ensure the skin browns.
- Like with any poultry, trim any loose skin.
- Brine and season the hens well. The rule of thumb for brining cornish hens: 3 quarts water + ¾ cup kosher salt and 2–3 hours brine time.
- Save the pan drippings for gravy or a quick jus.
- There are a variety of ways you can cook cornish hens; roast, grill, and smoke are a few, but broiling or roasting is best for ease and consistency.
- For food safety reasons, it’s important that the stuffing is hot when spooned into the hens.
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This recipe article was originally published on November 11, 2020.
Wow! Can I give this recipe 10 stars! I made this last night for a couple friends and we were blown away. So flavorful and elegant. I am saving this recipe and will be making it for a smaller Thanksgiving gathering this year. Cheers!
Amazing recipe!! Served this for our friends wine night and everyone was so impressed. Thank you for making me look good.
Scrumptious recipe. Very clear directions and killer gravy.
This sounds amazing and I’d like to make it for a dinner party of 9. Do you think I could roast them ahead and then delicately reheat? Any tips?
Oooh great question! I think you could definitely do that. I would reheat them on a wire rack set in a baking sheet (with a bit of water in the baking sheet) in a 300-degree oven until warmed through. The water will keep them moist. Just make sure when you initially cook them that the stuffing gets to 160ºF.
I would then store them in the refrigerator either still on the wire rack set in the baking sheet or on a large platter and wrapped in plastic wrap. I hope that helps! Let me know how it goes.
I did a trial run with 2 hens. First, it was DELICIOUS and I just sort of winged it, as it was not exact. My husband and I ate the first one after letting it rest. We put the second one in the fridge on a rack and covered with foil. The next night, I preheated the oven to 300 and then popped it in till warm. While they were certainly still delicious, they were a bit drier the second day. Not enough to toss out or not eat it, just not quite as succulent as right out of the oven. It makes sense, it’s such a small bird, its delicate. So, I will be problem solving that for this weekend’s progressive dinner party. Thanks for such a wonderful recipe! Excited to serve it.
They turned out amazing and everyone loved them! Delicious!
Hi Katmandu, I’m so happy to hear everyone enjoyed them! Thanks for letting me know!
I was super intimidated to try cooking cornish hens. I found your recipe and we loved how it came out. Everyone was so impressed!
I’ll be making this recipe for the first time for Thanksgiving this year and I’m pretty excited about it. Question: do the dried tart cherries need to be unsweetened, or does it matter? Most of the ones in grocery stores are sweetened. The unsweetened ones are harder to find locally, but if that’s what’s called for, I’ll order some from an online vendor if need be. I don’t want to risk ruining the recipe by using the wrong cherry! Please advise. Thanks in advance. 🙂
Hey RJ, great question! You can use the sweetened dried cherries at your grocery store. I find unsweetened cherries add a nice tartness, but the sweetened ones will work just fine. I can’t wait to hear what you think!