Rock Cornish game hen (usually simply called Cornish game hen) looks like a miniature chicken—which is, essentially, just what it is. But its petite size and young age give it a particular flavor and texture that the bigger chickens do not have, not to mention the unique opportunity of getting an entire chicken on your plate. Learn more about this little chicken with big aspirations and how it can make a valuable contribution to your poultry repertoire.
What Is Cornish Game Hen?
Connecticut farmers Jacques and Alphonsine (Therese) Makowsky cross-bred the standard Cornish chicken with a White Plymouth Rock hen and a Malayan fighting cock in the 1950s. The result, dubbed the Rock Cornish Game Hen, matures quickly, developing particularly large breasts and fatty skin. A Cornish game hen must weigh between 1 and 2 pounds, but the norm is about 1 1/4 pounds. A Cornish game hen has to be slaughtered before five weeks of age and can be male or female.
The small meat-to-bone ratio makes one game hen the perfect serving size for most people when presented with a side dish or two.
How to Cook Cornish Game Hen
The Cornish game hen is as versatile as a regular whole chicken, so you can easily adapt most any whole chicken recipe for this little game hen. Because of its small size, the game hen cooks through more quickly than a standard chicken. This actually makes it easier to achieve crispy skin and properly cooked meat simultaneously. And the fatty skin naturally bastes the meat, keeping it moist as it cooks.
In general, roast Cornish game hen in a 450 F oven for 20 to 25 minutes, or until a meat thermometer inserted into the thickest breast meat registers 155 F. After you pull the chicken from the oven, tent it with foil and let it rest undisturbed for at least 10 minutes to let the temperature come up another five to 10 degrees.
To achieve an extra-crispy skin, apply a glaze: Start the hen in a 450 F oven for about 25 minutes, then lower the temperature to 350 F for another 25 minutes, adding the glaze, if using, with about 15 minutes left.
There are many ways you can cook this tasty little bird, but here are some of the most common methods:
- Roasting: As the preferred preparation for Cornish game hen, roasting allows you to use the giblets as you would standard poultry giblets in gravies and thick sauces. If you use stuffing, plan on one cup per game hen. Keep the bird moist by adding butter between the skin and meat and covering the drumstick ends with tin foil to avoid burning. Place in a 450 F oven for 25 minutes or in a 350 F oven for one hour and 15 minutes. Plate in a rectangular pan with vegetables around. Serve with mashed potatoes casserole, spinach salad, and roasted butternut squash.
- Braising: Although time-consuming, braising will further tenderize the meat and give you a succulent and moist chicken. Brown the hen in a pan with olive oil, remove from heat, and deglaze the pan with chicken broth. Add mirepoix, salt, and pepper. Put the hen back in the pan and let simmer with the lid on and enough liquid to cover half of the height of the bird. Transfer the pot to a 300 F oven, timing one hour per pound of chicken. Serve with coconut jasmine rice, roasted vegetables, and a salad with avocado-lime dressing.
- Sautéeing: Because the hen is small, sautéing is a good option if you're pressed for time. Butterfly the hen so it cooks evenly on the pan. Add olive oil to a hot pan and place hen skin-side down for 10 minutes until brown. Add salt and pepper, flip, and cook the other side adding melted butter to the pan and basting the top with the help of a spoon. Once the bird is cooked, check salt and pepper, decorate with fresh chopped parsley, and serve with apple-glazed carrots, orange rice, and onion gravy.
- Slow-cooking: This is a great alternative if you can't be at the stove. Simply coat four to five birds with your favorite dry rub, place skin-side down in a crock pot with abundant olive oil, and add enough chicken or vegetable broth so the birds are halfway submerged. Check the liquid level during five hours of cooking at low heat or three hours at high heat.
- Grilling: Marinate your butterflied hen overnight and place it skin-side down on a very hot grill. Do not move the bird for eight minutes, then turn it over to cook the other side.
What Does Cornish Game Hen Taste Like?
Cornish game hen tastes like delicate, sweet chicken with a soft, falling-off-the-bone texture that practically melts in your mouth. Notwithstanding the creative name, there is nothing whatsoever gamy about it.
Cornish Game Hen vs. Chicken
Cornish game hen is the smallest of the commercial chicken family at between 1 and 2 pounds and less than five weeks old. The next step up is a broiler-fryer at about seven weeks old and 2.5 to 4.5 pounds. There is a great difference between the two, both in terms of taste and the texture of the meat. While a young broiler is tender, a Cornish game hen is even more so. Besides size and age, the particular cross of the Cornish game hen creates larger breasts and more fat, which naturally bastes the meat while it cooks, making it even more tender. One could say that because the Cornish game hen is so young, it is not as flavorful as an older chicken that has had more time to develop flavor, but that is a question of personal taste.
A poussin chicken (also known as a spring chicken), which must be less than four weeks old and weigh less than 750 grams (26 ounces), could be considered comparable in many ways to a Cornish game hen, but the poussin chicken is not USDA rated and the breeding is different. Among the USDA recognized categories, the one closest to Cornish game hen in terms of moistness and flavor is, ironically, the biggest and oldest of them all—a capon—whose large breasts and soft, buttery flesh most closely resemble that of the little Cornish game hen.
As with most poultry these days, Cornish game hen can be conventionally raised, certified organic, or free range. These are different protocols for raising animals and do not necessarily indicate a hierarchy of taste or quality. However, for many people, the way animals—or fruits and vegetables—are raised, makes a big difference above and beyond how it tastes.
Cornish Game Hen Recipes
You can use Cornish game hen for almost any recipe that calls for bone-in chicken, but it does particularly well butterflied and grilled or roasted whole, either stuffed or not.
Where to Buy Cornish Game Hen
Cornish game hen can be purchased at almost any grocery store that sells poultry as well as butcher shops and specialty food stores. It is also possible to buy it from poultry farms that have a retail outlet or on websites of specialty meat and poultry purveyors.
Storing Cornish Game Hen
Fresh Cornish game hen can be kept in the refrigerator wrapped individually in plastic for three to five days, but the sooner you use it, the better. Frozen Cornish game hen can be kept in the freezer, individually wrapped in plastic, for up to six months. Fresh Cornish game hen can be frozen, if necessary, either whole or butterflied, individually wrapped in plastic, for up to six months. However, this is not advisable if the bird was previously frozen and thawed, as it might compromise its quality.