For Fancy Roast Chicken, Make Cornish Hens

Cornish hens are simple, personal roast chickens for everyone at the table. 

Published Jan. 23, 2023.

Roast chicken is irrefutably delicious, but it presents the challenge of distribution: Who gets the thigh or the breast or the wings? Enter the Cornish game hen

Despite their name, Cornish game hens aren’t game birds—even though George Costanza refers to them as such in one of my all-time favorite Seinfeld references. They are a specialty crossbreed of Cornish and White Plymouth Rock chickens that are harvested under 2 pounds. 

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Their appeal lies in that they are a flavorful chicken, only smaller. They allow people at the table to enjoy every succulent piece of meat the bird has to offer on one plate, and their individual portion size feels celebratory and special. These petite chickens are tender and have a surprisingly robust flavor—similar to chicken, only a bit richer. 

Here are the keys to cooking them.

  • Salt the hens ahead of time to help season them all the way through and allow the small birds to hold on to moisture. 
  • Keep the birds uncovered in the refrigerator to help dry out their skin. Dry skin leads to more efficient browning (as does brushing with oil right before cooking). 
  • Cook the birds quickly in a hot 500-degree oven to speed along the Maillard reaction for flavorful browning. 
  • Let the hens rest to redistribute their juices and allow the birds to cool slightly so they can be more easily handled. 
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Because Cornish hens taste like chicken (because they are chickens), they can be dressed up with various condiments and sauces or enjoyed on their own. We like to serve ours with a mustard-herb sauce.

Mustard-Herb Sauce for Cornish Hens

  • ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh tarragon
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh parsley
  • ¼ cup minced fresh chives
  • 2 tablespoons whole-grain mustard
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • ¾ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ½ teaspoon pepper

Combine all ingredients in small bowl.

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