Cornish game hens are similar to chickens, but significantly smaller in size. They can often be prepared in the same way, but result in a smaller portion. This also means that they take less time to cook! This roasted Cornish Game Hen recipe is simple, yet impressive, and perfect for 2-4 guests.
You should figure that each person will eat half a Cornish game hen, especially when multiple sides are served. If you’re serving fewer side dishes, assume each person will eat a full Cornish game hen on their own.
The ingredients can be broken down into two categories: the compound butter used to rub all over the Cornish game hens and the ingredients needed to stuff the birds. First, you’ll want to make sure the game hens are patted dry with paper towels, then seasoned both inside the cavity, as well as all over the skin with Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Ingredients for the compound butter: room temperature unsalted butter, extra virgin olive oil, lemon zest, fresh rosemary, fresh sage, and chopped garlic. These get whisked together in a small bowl.
For this Cornish game hen recipe, you’ll stuff each cavity with quartered lemons, shallots, and more fresh herbs (rosemary, sage, or fresh thyme!). Don’t have shallots? Substitute with quartered onion instead!
- For extra crispy skin, allow the Cornish game hens to sit uncovered overnight in a fridge. The cold air will help to dry out the skin. Place the Cornish game hens on a wire rack set on top of a rimmed baking sheet, then refrigerate.
- Season generously with Kosher salt, including inside the cavity of the bird. This will help to draw out moisture, as well as flavor the bird throughout.
- If you’re sensitive to cooked lemon (some people find the flavor to be bitter), omit the lemon slices when assembling and lay the prepared hen directly on top of sprigs of fresh rosemary.
- Have an instant-read thermometer on hand to ensure the game hen is fully cooked. Poultry is safe to eat when an internal temperature of 165F is reached — test the thickest part of the thigh.
We recommend the Thermapen MK4 to check for doneness on all meats!
Make Ahead, Storage, and Freezing
Make ahead: You can prep this Cornish game hen recipe in advance, but if you want the skin to be crispy, we recommend enjoying it same day.
Storage: Leftovers should be stored in an airtight container in a refrigerator and should be eaten within 4 days.
Freezing: You can freeze uncooked, whole game hens for up to 6 months. Cooked Cornish game hens can be frozen for up to 1 month. Defrost overnight, then reheat in either an oven or microwave. Alternatively, you can place the frozen game hen in an oven preheated to 350F, then cook until warm throughout, about 20-30 minutes.
How do you know when the Cornish hen is fully cooked?
It should have an internal temperature of 165F. Another tip is to make sure the juice runs clear when you cut into the bird.
Can I use frozen Cornish game hens?
Yes, but they need to be thawed before cooking. Defrost in a refrigerator overnight before cooking.
Can this recipe be scaled up for larger groups?
Absolutely! Assume ½ a Cornish game hen per person when multiple sides are served, or 1 whole hen per person with minimal side dishes.
What’s the difference between a Cornish game hen and a chicken?
A Cornish game hen (also referred to as a Rock Cornish game hen) is a chicken that is typically around 5 weeks old and weighs approximately 2 lbs. A standard, full grown chicken is closer to 8 weeks old and weighs in around 4 or 5 lbs.
This makes for a really lovely small format holiday meal that still feels special and elegant, without having to make a whole turkey or chicken. If you make this Cornish Game Hen recipe, please let us know by leaving a review and rating below!
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More poultry recipes to try!Chicken Florentine Recipe Braised Chicken Thighs Chicken Provencal Greek Turkey Meatballs Grilled Spatchcock Chicken
Roasted Cornish Game Hens
- 2 Cornish game hens about ~2 lbs each
- 2 tsp Kosher salt
- ¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper
- 6 Tbsp unsalted butter softened
- 2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 1 medium lemon zested and cut into quarters
- 2 Tbsp fresh rosemary chopped
- 2 Tbsp fresh sage chopped
- 3 cloves garlic chopped, about 2 Tbsp
- 2 medium shallots peeled
- ~20 sprigs rosemary sage, or thyme, or a combination
- Flaky sea salt for serving
- Season the game hens. Preheat an oven to 425F. Pat the Cornish hens dry on all sides with a paper towel, then sprinkle both the skin and the cavity liberally with 2 tsp Kosher salt and ¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper.
- Make the compound butter. In a medium bowl, combine 6 Tbsp unsalted butter, 2 Tbsp olive oil, the zest of 1 lemon, 2 Tbsp chopped rosemary, 2 Tbsp chopped sage, and 2 Tbsp chopped garlic. Stir until well mixed.
- Prepare the game hens. Rub the mixture evenly over the Cornish hens, working some of the butter under the skin as well. Next, stuff the cavity with lemon wedges, shallots, and rosemary or sage. Truss the legs of each Cornish hen with kitchen twine by crossing the legs one over the other, then tying tightly in a knot. Tuck the wings underneath the breasts.
- Transfer to a baking dish. Place the lemon rounds on the bottom of the roasting pan (optional, see note below), then add the rosemary, sage, and/or thyme sprigs on top. Arrange the seasoned Cornish hens on top.
- Roast the Cornish game hens. Transfer to an oven and cook for 50-60 minutes, or until the internal temperature into the thickest part of the bird registers between 160-165F (the temperature will continue to rise as it rests). Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 10 minutes.
- Serve! When ready to serve, remove the lemon, shallots, and herbs from the cavity, then use a sharp knife to cut each hen in half lengthwise. Serve immediately with a sprinkle of flaky sea salt on top.