Cornish game hens -- whole, young hens that weigh only about 2 lbs. -- are just the right size for individual servings. Because the plump little hens consist primarily of lean, white meat, they often appeal to children and finicky eaters. Versatile Cornish game hens cook quickly using a variety of simple methods.
Cleaning and Thawing
Cornish game hens come securely packaged in sealed, airtight wrappers and are pan-ready with little preparation. Hold the package over your sink while you remove the hen from the packaging. Let the hen drain thoroughly, then pat dry with folded paper towels. If the hen is frozen, thaw it in your refrigerator for one to two days. If you're in a hurry and don't have time for a slow defrost, thaw frozen packaged hens in a bowl of cool water. Replace the water every 30 minutes. The hens are ready to cook in one to two hours, depending on their size.
Cut Cornish game hens into two equal halves if whole hens are too large for kids or diners with small appetites. To cut a hen in half, use a sharp knife or clean kitchen scissors to cut down each side of the backbone. Once you remove the backbone, cut down through the breastbone and pull the hen in half. Cooking a halved Cornish game hen is no different from cooking a whole hen, but may require a shorter cooking time.
Preparation and Seasoning
Preparing a Cornish game hen doesn't need to be complicated, as most young diners prefer a juicy, flavorful hen without a lot of exotic sauces and seasonings. Place your fingers under the skin and carefully loosen the skin to create a space between the skin and the bird. Slide an orange or lemon slice under the skin. The citrus imparts a mild, tangy flavor while retaining the bird's natural juiciness. You can also use your fingers to work seasonings such as dried buttermilk dressing mix or salt and pepper. Tuck a sprig of rosemary or basil under the skin for an elegant touch.
Oven-roasting is the more traditional method of cooking Cornish game hens and is simply done by coating the skin with butter or olive oil and then dusting it with seasonings before roasting it in a hot oven. You can also cook Cornish game hens by sauteeing them in a heavy skillet with a bit of olive oil, or by grilling them on a gas or charcoal grill. To add extra flavor, brush cooked game hens with barbecue sauce or a simple glaze such as apricot jam with a bit of vinegar or orange marmalade and ginger. On a busy day, Cornish game hens make a full meal when cooked in the slow cooker with assorted vegetables.
An instant-read meat thermometer is the surest way to determine if your Cornish game hen is done. To use the thermometer, push it into the thickest part of the breast. Look for a fleshy area, as the temperature may be skewed if the thermometer rests against bone. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service, poultry is safely and thoroughly cooked when the temperature registers at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit. Roasting a hen to this temperature takes an hour or less. Sauteeing requires about 40 minutes, while hens cook on the grill in about 45 to 55 minutes.
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- University of Kentucky College of Agriculture: Poultry Preparation, Focus on Chicken
- University of Illinois Extension; Cornish Game Hens for the Holidays; November-December 2004
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