This roasted Cornish hen recipe is an easy and elegant way to make a meal that’s quick enough for a busy weeknight, yet fancy enough for a special occasion. The hens are coated in butter, garlic and herbs, then cooked in the oven for perfectly tender and juicy results every time.
My mom used to make Cornish hen all the time when I was growing up, and it was always so fun to eat these “baby chickens”. My version of this dish includes plenty of fresh herbs, and a rich butter rub that makes the skin golden brown and keeps the meat juicy.
What is a cornish hen?
A Cornish hen is a type of young chicken, and is typically comes from the Cornish or White Plymouth Rock chicken breeds. It is sometimes referred to as Cornish game hen, although it is not a true game bird. These birds have a flavor that is reminiscent of standard chickens, but they are often more tender. A typical hen will weigh between one and two pounds. Cornish hens are in the meat department of most grocery stores, typically in the freezer area.
How do you make roasted cornish hen?
Start by mixing together softened butter with fresh garlic, minced herbs, salt and pepper. Tuck the wings of the hens under the birds. Place a slice of lemon and onion and sprigs of herbs in the cavity of each hen, then tie the legs together with kitchen twine. Coat the birds with the butter mixture. Roast the hens until they are cooked though, and the skin is golden brown and crispy. Let the birds rest for a few minutes. Slice in half and serve, garnished with herbs and lemon slices if desired.
Tips for the perfect dish
- The best way to gauge when your Cornish hens are done is to use a meat thermometer. Insert the probe into the thickest part of the bird without touching any bone. The temperature should read at least 165 degrees F when the birds are done.
- I typically serve half a bird per person. If your birds are on the smaller side, it’s fine to serve a whole one.
- Work quickly when you spread the butter over the hens. The butter can solidify when it touches the cold bird, which makes it harder to spread.
- Leftover Cornish hen will stay fresh in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
- Feel free to add some vegetables to your baking dish such as potatoes or carrots.
- For an extra flavorful hen, you can brine them first for up to 8 hours in my chicken brine.
What do you eat with cornish hens?
I like to serve my roasted hens with a side of potatoes, rice or mac and cheese. You can never go wrong with a salad or green veggie to round out the meal.
- Stovetop Mac and Cheese: Make this ultra creamy mac and cheese while your birds are cooking away in the oven.
- Roasted Parsnips: Prepare a tray of these parsnips and put them in the oven 30 minutes before the hens are done.
- Succotash: This colorful blend of veggies with crispy bacon is the perfect counterpart to the hens.
- Crock Pot Mashed Potatoes: The slow cooker does most of the work on this one, serve the birds on top of the potatoes with the pan juices drizzled over the top.
Once you see how easy it is to make this dish, you’ll find yourself preparing it on a regular basis!
Roasted Cornish Hen Video
Roasted Cornish Hen
- 2 Cornish hens 1.5 - 2 pounds each
- 2 sprigs fresh rosemary
- 2 sprigs fresh thyme
- 1/2 small onion cut into wedges
- 1/2 lemon cut into wedges
- 6 tablespoons butter softened
- 2 teaspoons garlic minced
- 2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves minced
- 2 teaspoons fresh rosemary leaves minced
- 2 teaspoons fresh parsley leaves minced
- salt and pepper to taste
- cooking spray
- herb sprigs and lemon wedges for garnish optional
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Coat a baking dish with cooking spray.
- Tuck the wings underneath the breast of each hen. Stuff each hen cavity with the rosemary and thyme sprigs, onion and lemon.
- Tie the legs of the hens together with kitchen twine.
- Place the butter, garlic, minced thyme, rosemary and parsley, and salt and pepper to taste in a bowl. Stir to combine.
- Rub the butter mixture all over the hens, both on the outside of the hens and underneath the skin.
- Place the hens in the prepared dish.
- Bake for approximately 50-60 minutes or until a thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh registers 165 degrees F. The cook time may vary a bit depending on the size of your birds.
- If the skin is getting overly dark as the hens cook, them with foil.
- Let the hens rest for 5 minutes. Remove the lemon, onion and herbs from the hen cavities. Cut in half, then serve with pan drippings. Garnish with lemon and herbs if desired.