These Roasted Cornish Game Hens are meant to impress! Stuffed with a flavorful wild rice stuffing and covered in a triple-herb butter, these 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.
What are cornish hens, or cornish game hens?
Cornish hens, also called cornish game hens or rock cornish game hens, are a breed of chicken. They look and taste like chicken, but are far smaller.
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 brine cornish game hens
Because of their small size, cornish game hens only need a few hours in a brine to absorb the benefits. Frankly, if you’re in a time crunch, you can skip the brine. Brining isn’t necessary but it is an insurance policy for moist meat.
This cornish hen brine is simple—no added flavorings, just water and salt.
The rule of thumb for brining cornish hens: 3 quarts water + ¾ cup kosher salt and 2–3 hours brine time.
Instead of heating the brine (which is common but takes time to do and to cool), simply stir the salt into the water until dissolved. Plop the cornish hens in the water, cover, and brine in the refrigerator for two to three hours.
How to cook cornish hens
A few tips for cooking cornish 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 bird, trim any loose skin.
- Brine and season the hens well.
- Save the pan drippings for gravy or a quick jus.
How to make this roasted cornish hen recipe
- 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. 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).
- 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).
- Make the gravy: while the hens rest, make the gravy with the pan drippings.
How to serve stuffed cornish hens
I like to serve a 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, I would 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).
How to use leftovers
Leftover roasted Cornish hens will last up to 4 days in the refrigerator or 3 months in the freezer. Reheat the cornish hens in the microwave or in a skillet over medium heat with broth or reserved drippings.
Use the leftover meat in these recipes:
What to serve with stuffed cornish hens
Vegetable side dishes:
- Roasted Beets & Carrots with Toasted Cumin Vinaigrette
- Roasted Delicata Squash with Maple Browned Butter Sauce
- Garlicky Sautéed Broccoli
- Roasted Green Beans
Potato side dishes:
- Mashed Celery Root & Potatoes
- Crispy Fingerling Potatoes with Capers and Frico
- Buttermilk Pumpkin Mashed Potatoes
- Maple & Molasses Glazed Sweet Potatoes
- Simple Fennel Salad
- Creamy Cucumber Salad
- Roasted Brussels Sprouts Caesar Salad
- Kale Apple Salad with Goat Cheese & Pistachios
Bread & rolls:
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Golden brown and buttery, these roasted cornish game hens are stuffed with a flavorful wild rice stuffing for an elegant and impressive dinner.
- ¾ cup 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
- Kosher salt and cracked black pepper
- 3 tablespoons white whole-wheat flour
- ¼ cup dry white wine
- 2 ½ cups low-sodium chicken broth
Wild Rice Stuffing:
- ¾ cups wild rice blend
- 1 ½ cups water
- 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.
Meanwhile, 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 breast and leg area of each hen with 2 teaspoons herb butter. 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 breast and leg area of each hen with 1 teaspoon herb butter. 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 the thickest parts of the breast, which should register 165ºF, and the leg, 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.
Serve with jus instead of gravy: pour hen “jus” from baking sheet into small saucepan, spoon off excess fat, add wine, and simmer over medium-high heat until flavors blend, 2–3 minutes. Drizzle about ¼ cup sauce over each hen and serve, passing remaining sauce separately.
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