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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