Rock Cornish game hens look like miniature chickens, and taste just about the same—not surprising since contrary to their grandiose name, they are actually just chickens. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a Cornish game hen must weigh between 1 and 2 pounds, with the standard at about 1 1/4 pounds, and be slaughtered before five weeks of age. They can be either male or female birds. The small meat-to-bone ratio makes one game hen the perfect serving size for most people. With multiple courses or a lot of side dishes, you might need only half a hen per person. The soft bones make it easy to split one down the middle either before or after you cook it.
History of Cornish Game Hens
Credit for the success of the Cornish game hen largely goes to Jacques and Alphonsine Makowsky, Connecticut farmers who bred the standard Cornish chicken with a White Plymouth Rock Hen and a Malayan fighting cock in the 1950s. The resulting bird matures quickly, developing particularly large breasts and fatty skin that naturally bastes the meat, keeping it moist as it cooks.
Preparation Methods for Cornish Game Hens
Roasting is the best preparation method for Cornish hens, although braising, sauteeing, slow-cooking, and grilling also work. The giblets can also be used just as standard poultry giblets in gravies and such. If you use stuffing, plan on 1 cup per game hen. Do not stuff them until just before you put them in the oven to avoid any potential for food poisoning.
Cornish game hens are as versatile as regular whole chickens but give your menu an elegant touch. You can adapt your favorite whole chicken recipe for use with game hens with little fuss. Because of their small size, the game hens cook through more quickly than a standard chicken. This actually makes it easier to achieve crispy skin and properly cooked meat simultaneously—more of a feat with a larger roaster.
Cooking Times for Cornish Game Hens
In general, roast game hens in a 450 F oven for 20 to 25 minutes, or until a 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 5 to 10 degrees. If you plan to glaze your bird, lower the temperature, increase the cooking time, and apply the glaze during the last 15 minutes to prevent burning. You might use a 350 F oven but cook the hens for an hour and 15 minutes with this method. To achieve an extra crispy crust but still apply a glaze, start the hens in a 450 F oven for about 25 minutes, then lower the temperature to 350 F for another 25 minutes or so, again adding the glaze with about 15 minutes left.