Ever wondered how to cook cornish hens? It's so simple and a great alternative to roasting bigger birds. This delicious one-pan meal is easy enough to make for a family weeknight dinner and fancy enough to make for the holidays, especially as a simple Christmas main course. The cornish hens are brushed with herb butter and then cooked in the oven. Roasted cornish hens have tender and juicy meat, and the herb butter gives the poultry a beautiful roasted look.
Roasted Cornish Hens
This simple and delicious recipe takes only 1 hour to make (since the cornish game hens are so small) and requires only one pan, so the cleanup is minimal. It's an easy family weeknight dinner to make after a busy workday. It's also a festive and colorful meal - perfect for the holidays, such as Christmas, or for a romantic dinner night, or to impress your guests. This recipe explains everything you need to know about how to cook Cornish hens.
Easy one-pan fancy dinner
This is a great one-pan meal to make any time of year, but it is an especially cozy and comforting dinner for a cold Fall or Winter night. Cornish hens are very easy to handle and, when baked or roasted, they turn out great and full of flavor no matter what!
- The cornish hens are first brushed with herb butter made with Italian seasoning (or Herbs from Provence), fresh thyme, butter, and olive oil.
- Then, the cornish hens are baked in a roasting pan in the oven.
- Midway through the baking, add Brussels sprouts and cubed sweet potatoes to the roasting pan underneath and around the Cornish hens, and continue cooking everything together!
- Everything is cooked in one pan, and the cleanup is a breeze!
Holiday main course
Roasted cornish hens are a perfect Christmas recipe. If you don't want to prepare a turkey or a big piece of ham, this recipe is your best alternative!
The cornish hens are baked in the oven at 350 F for only about 1 hour, and the meat is delicious, tender, and juicy. The winter vegetables (Brussels sprouts and sweet potatoes) are roasted together with the hens and add more flavor to this dish! Serve this delicious Christmas main course together with festive and colorful side dishes, such as this sausage stuffing and roasted butternut squash with Brussels sprouts, pecans, and cranberries.
What are Cornish game hens?
Interestingly, cornish hens are a breed of chicken originating partially from England. They are a cross between the Cornish chicken breed (a British breed of game chicken that originated in Cornwall and Devon counties in southwest England) and the White Plymouth Rock chicken (an American breed of domestic chicken). So, cornish hens are basically broiler chickens of a particular breed.
The difference between chicken and cornish hens
- Cornish game hens have leaner meat and less fat than regular chickens. Cornish hens also have more white meat than dark meat.
- Cornish hens are known for being of much smaller size (each hen weighing usually between 1 and 2 pounds) than the regular chicken we are accustomed to. This brings us to the next point.
- Due to their small size (compared to a regular chicken), Cornish game hens make a beautiful presentation and can be served as an individual main course. Or, split each hen in half, and serve it alongside roasted veggies.
At what temperature to roast Cornish hens in the oven and for how long?
Depending on the size of the poultry, cook Cornish hens in the preheated oven at 400 F for about 45 minutes to 1 hour. Use an instant meat thermometer after about 40 minutes of roasting. It should register an internal temperature of 165 F when inserted in the thickest part of the hen, not touching any bones.
How to cook cornish hens
- Prepare the Cornish hens. Pat dry them inside and out with paper towels. Season the insides with salt and pepper, and minced garlic.
- Make herb butter. Combine softened (not melted) butter, olive oil, Italian seasoning, fresh thyme, and salt and pepper. Rub this mixture all over the hens.
- Cook the hens in the roasting pan in the preheated oven at 400 F for 15 minutes.
- Prepare the vegetables. Slice the brussels sprouts in half, peel, and cube sweet potatoes. Remove the hens from the oven and arrange the veggies around the poultry.
- Roast the Cornish hens together with the veggies for 40 or 45 more minutes. Your one-pan meal is ready!
Cooking tips and variations
- Add vegetables. In this recipe, I've added Brussels sprouts and cubed sweet potatoes to the roasting pan about halfway through the roasting process. You can add any other veggies of your choice, such as carrots, small potatoes, green beans, zucchini, bell peppers, or mushrooms.
- Herbs. Dried herbs mixed with butter brushed over the outside of the hens are the best choice! You can use Italian seasoning, Herbs from Provence, or any other combination of dry herbs you like. Fresh chopped herbs can be used, too, such as thyme, sage, and oregano.
- Rub the inside of the cornish hens with salt, pepper, and minced garlic for more flavor!
- How to cook Cornish hens - covered or uncovered? Cook them uncovered all the way so that they acquire a beautiful golden-brown color. You can also brush the hens with softened butter every now and then.
- How do you know when the cornish hens are cooked? Use an instant meat thermometer! It should register an internal temperature of 165 F when inserted in the thickest part of the hen, not touching any bones.
- Brush the outside of roasted Cornish hens with butter after they are completely cooked through and ready to be served. This will create a beautiful presentation.
- The recipe can be easily halved or doubled. 2 cornish hens usually serve 4 people (especially if you're roasting the vegetables, too): ½ of each cornish hen per person plus veggies.
What to serve with Cornish hens
Due to their small size, Cornish game hens make a beautiful presentation as an individual entrée. You can also split each hen in half, and serve it alongside some side dishes. Here are some ideas:
- Roasted vegetables. Roast veggies in the same roasting pan as the cornish hens. You can add Brussels sprouts, sweet potatoes, small potatoes, carrots, bell peppers, onions, mushrooms - all those will complement roasted Cornish hens perfectly.
- Rice, quinoa, or couscous are great side dishes to soak up the juices from the baked cornish hens. Flavored rice or wild rice will work, too!
- Vegetable salad will make a great accompaniment to poultry, such as roasted Brussels sprouts with bacon, pecans, and cranberries or green beans with pine nuts and parmesan cheese.
Other whole bird (poultry) recipes
Now that you've learned how to cook Cornish hens, it's time to try other fancy dinners involving roasting a whole bird:
Roasted Cornish Hens
Prepare the poultry
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Pat dry Cornish hens in and out with paper towels.
- Rub the insides of Cornish hens with salt and pepper. Stuff the insides with minced garlic.
Make herb butter
- In a bowl, combine 5 tablespoons of softened (not melted) butter, 2 tablespoons olive oil, Italian seasoning, fresh thyme, and generous amounts of salt and pepper. Mix well to combine.
- Place Cornish hens breast sides up in a large roasting pan or ovenproof braising dish. I used a 3.5 quart Staub cast-iron pan.
- Rub this herb mixture all over the outside of Cornish hens. Sprinkle the outside (breast side) of cornish hens with a small amount of additional Italian seasoning and sprinkle with more salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Roast Cornish hens
- Roast Cornish hens at 400 Fahrenheit for 15 minutes.
- During these 15 minutes, while the cornish hens are baked, prepare the vegetables. Remove yellow leaves from Brussels sprouts and slice each in half. Peel the sweet potatoes (medium size) and cut them into cubes.
- After the Cornish hens have cooked for 15 minutes, remove the roasting pan from the oven. Add cubed sweet potatoes and Brussels sprouts (halved) to the bottom of the pan. Raise the cornish hens and add some sweet potatoes underneath the birds. As you do this, mix the veggies with the butter and the juices released from the birds. Arrange the veggies around the birds. Sprinkle veggies with more salt and freshly ground black pepper. Rub the outside (breast side) of Cornish hens with more butter (1 tablespoon or more).
- Roast the Cornish hens for about 40 more minutes, until an instant meat thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the breast registers 165 °F. Make sure the thermometer does not touch the bone. Also, use the meat thermometer before the 40 minutes up (after the first 25 or 30 minutes).
- Remove the hens from the oven and let them rest for 10 minutes.
- Transfer baked Cornish hens and roasted vegetables to a platter. Serve Cornish hens whole or cut in half. Decorate with fresh thyme sprigs.
The nutritional information on this website is only an estimate and is provided for convenience and as a courtesy only. The accuracy of the nutritional information for any recipe on this site is not guaranteed. It should not be used as a substitute for a professional nutritionist’s advice.