The Ins and Outs of Cornish Game Hens
They sound exotic and sometimes appear as an elegant entree for special dinners, but if you think of Cornish game hens as simply small chickens, the intimidation factor disappears. What's more, Cornish game hens roast in the oven much more quickly than whole chickens, making them a possibility for dinner every night of the week. Treat the poultry as you would chickens, but invest in a pair of sturdy kitchen shears to cut the birds into halves to make eating easier.
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.
M.H. Dyer began her writing career as a staff writer at a community newspaper and is now a full-time commercial writer. She writes about a variety of topics, with a focus on sustainable, pesticide- and herbicide-free gardening. She is an Oregon State University Master Gardener and Master Naturalist and holds a Master of Fine Arts in creative nonfiction writing.