This Cornish hen recipe is infused with an herb bouquet and fresh citrus, then brushed with a sweet orange marmalade glaze—it’s a delicious, flavorful and beautiful departure from traditional roasted chicken.
Cornish Hen, a Delicate and Delicious Little Bird
While a classic roasted chicken is easily one of my favorite “simple things”, I love taking an opportunity to prepare a bit of a special recipe in a similar style using the smaller, slightly more delicate and richly-flavorful little bird, the Cornish hen (or Cornish game hen).
Cornish hens are typically only about one and a half to two pounds—small enough to enjoy one per person—and are the perfect bird to prepare for a bit of a special occasion meal, or whenever one feels like serving something eye-popping and just a little bit different.
Roasted to a light golden-brown, Cornish hens are stunning when nestled together on a platter all glossy from a slightly sweet and delicious glaze, with fragrant herbs wildly sprouting out of their cavities along with slices of citrus.
They make for a beautifully rustic meal that is not only an utter treat to eat but quite fun to prepare!
And as lovely, succulent, and flavorful as Cornish hens are, they only require a good fistful of fragrant ingredients and a little bit of time to roast in the oven until golden-brown and perfectly juicy and moist.
How to Cook Cornish Hens
When it comes to cooking Cornish hens, roasting them in the oven is the best way to prepare them.
You simply need some flavor pairings that will compliment the meat and bring out its natural flavor. My personal favorite ingredients to use in a scrumptious Cornish hen recipe are lots of aromatic herbs and citrus.
The herbs—rosemary, parsley and thyme—provide that grassy, slightly “earthy” quality, and when stuffed inside for roasting, infuse the meat with spectacular flavor.
I like to use slices of lemon and orange for the citrus, as these offer a mildly sweet note that compliments the herbs and gives the Cornish hens a really lovely fragrance, making it sort of “festive”!
I also like to give them a bit of a glossy finish by creating a very simple orange marmalade glaze to brush on before and during the roasting process, made with only two ingredients: orange marmalade and a squeeze of fresh orange juice!
The result is a Cornish hen that is tender, juicy and succulent… and if you’re like us, you’ll be licking your fingers afterwards!
Here’s how I prepare the hens:
- I begin by rinsing out my Cornish hens and patting them dry.
- I prepare my orange marmalade glaze by whisking together some orange marmalade with some fresh orange juice, and I set this aside.
- I season both the inside cavity and the outside of the hens liberally with salt and black pepper
- Then, I take small fistfuls of parsley, thyme and rosemary (not chopped, but whole, with stems), and stuff the cavity with them. I take a couple of slices of lemon and orange, and stuff those in with the herbs as well. (Because I like to infuse as much flavor as possible into my Cornish hens, I do this step 24-48 hours ahead of when I plan on roasting them, but this is not totally necessary.)
- I preheat my oven to 375°, and prepare my baking sheet with some foil and a wire rack.
- I brush some of my glaze over each Cornish hen, then place them into the oven, breast-side up, to roast.
- After about twenty minutes, I brush a bit more glaze over the hens, then again once more after another twenty minutes.
- Then, I continue to roast for about another twenty to thirty minutes (for a total roasting time of about 1 hour – 1 hour 10 minutes), or until the Cornish hens are golden-brown and the internal temperature reaches 165°.
- I allow the hens to rest for about 10-15 minutes, then place onto a platter and serve!
The full recipe is below…
Tips & Tidbits for Cornish Hen:
- Fresh or frozen for this Cornish hen recipe: You can find Cornish hens in most markets. If you can find fresh, then purchase those; if you can only find frozen, then that is perfectly fine as well, just allow them to defrost in your fridge for a couple of days.
- Prep ahead for extra flavor: Whenever I prepare this Cornish hen recipe, I typically like to prep the hens about two days before I plan on roasting them. I will season them and stuff their cavities with the herbs and citrus slices, then place them a platter, then place the whole thing into a large ziplock bag to “marinate” and infuse for a 24-48 hours. You can also prep your glaze ahead too.
- A job for your digital thermometer: I like to use my digital thermometer when cooking anything that needs a specific internal temperature to ensure that it is safe to enjoy. Insert the probe into the thickest part of the thigh, and when the temp registers 165°, the chicken is cooked through, juicy, and safe to eat!
- Reheating leftovers: You can reheat Cornish hens in a toaster oven at 350° for about 10-15 minutes.
- Good sides to serve: Wild rice pilaf, potato and onion gratin, or greens are nice to serve with this recipe.
Feast your eyes on these, or just jump to the recipe:
Cornish Hen Recipe
by Ingrid Beer
Yield: Serves 4
Nutrition Info: 767 calories
Prep Time: 40 minutes
Cook time: 1 hour
Total time: 1 hour, 40 minutes
Orange Marmalade Glaze Ingredients:
• 1/2 cup orange marmalade
• 2 tablespoons fresh squeezed orange juice
Cornish Hen Ingredients:
• 4 Cornish hens (roughly 1 1/2 lbs. each), rinsed and dried off
• Sea salt
• Freshly cracked black pepper
• 2 teaspoons Italian seasoning
• 1 small bunch flat-leaf parsley, stems trimmed down
• 16 sprigs fresh thyme (about half a package)
• 4 sprigs fresh rosemary
• 2 lemons, sliced into 8 thin slices
• 2 small oranges, sliced into 8 thin slices
-Begin by preparing your orange marmalade glaze: add the orange marmalade and the orange juice to a small pot set over medium-low heat, and stir to incorporate; once the mixture comes to the simmer, reduce the heat to low, and allow the mixture to simmer for about 10 minutes, until slightly reduced, stirring occasionally.
-Once reduced, strain the mixture into a small bowl, and allow it to cool for about 20-25 minutes (it will also thicken up slightly) before using to glaze the hens.
-To prepare the Cornish hens: preheat oven to 375° and line a baking sheet with foil, and place a wire rack onto the baking sheet.
-Season the Cornish hens by liberally sprinkling salt both inside the cavities and outside the hens (about 1 tablespoons worth total), then sprinkling with freshly cracked black pepper and the Italian seasoning.
-Next, prepare your herb bouquets by dividing the small bunch of flat-leaf parsley into 4 portions; then, add to the parsley about 4 sprigs of the fresh thyme, and 1 sprig of the fresh rosemary, and tie the herb bouquet into a little bundle with some string (I used simple sewing thread), just to help the bouquets to stay together.
-Next, stuff one herb bouquet into the cavity of each hen, and then stuff 2 slices of lemon and 2 slices of orange into each cavity as well.
-Place the hens on the wire rack, breast side up (I chose not to truss my hens, but you can if you prefer), and brush some of the orange marmalade glaze all over each hen, and place into the oven to roast on the lower-middle rack.
-After about 20 minutes, brush some more of the glaze over the hens, and continue to roast; after another 20 minutes, brush the hens with more glaze, and continue to roast for another 20-35 minutes, (depending on the size of the hens), or until the internal temp reads 165° and the juices run clear. (If the skin begins to brown to much, simply cover the hens lightly with some foil lightly sprayed with cooking spray to prevent them from getting too dark.)
-Once roasted, remove the hens from the oven, and allow them to rest for about 10-15 minutes; serve the hens with additional slices of fresh citrus for garnish, if you desire.
Cook’s Note: This post was originally published in 2012, and has been updated with even more love!