The holidays are all about roasted birds. Some of us are rightfully intimidated by cooking the larger birds like turkeys. Cooking cornish hens is a great alternative to the stress of having to cook a large turkey. Cook these great roasted birds for your holiday table this year.
Choosing cornish hens:
You may find cornish hens already packaged in twos. Two hens will serve 8 people if you quarter each of them. Depending on the size of your dinner party, you may need 2-4 hens to serve each guest. Each hen will be anywhere from 1 ½ pounds to 2 pounds. These are the perfect size.
Cleaning cornish hens:
Cornish hens tend to be hairier than other birds. There are many tiny hairs and feathers on the skin that you will need to remove before cooking. Use a sharp knife to run along the skin of the bird to remove the hairs and feathers. Remove the extra fat and giblets in the bird and rinse under cold running making sure you wash outside and the cavity of the birds. Be sure to pat dry the hens before seasoning.
Use a dry rub:
Using a dry rub is a better idea than a wet rub for these birds. The dry rub I used is a combination of salt, pepper, chili powder, chicken seasoning and paprika. After pat drying the birds, they are drizzled with olive oil and seasoned liberally with the dry rub before roasting.
The birds are cooked over a bed of aromatics which include celery, onions, rosemary, thyme and fresh garlic. These are going to flavor the hens but also make for a great gravy base to accompany them.
Trussing the bird
Use kitchen twine to tie the legs of the bird in place. This process known as trussing helps the birds to keep their shape as they cook. It will make for a more beautiful presentation once they are roasted and plated. Be sure to remove the twine before the birds are served.
The hens will cook at a high temperature and as they are very small, it’s best to cook them uncovered for great color and crispy skin. Covering them will steam them and cause them to not brown up nicely and maybe even fall apart.
Plate in a festive way:
It’s the festive season so add a few leaves of sage or sprigs of rosemary to your plate when you serve these birds.
- 2 Cornish Hens (about 1 1/2lb each)
- 1 tbsp Kosher salt
- 2 tsp chicken seasoning
- 1 tsp chili powder
- 1 tbsp Tuscan seasoning (dried herbs)
- 2 tsp paprika
- 1 tsp fresh cracked pepper
- 6 cloves garlic
- 1 lemon
- 10 sprigs fresh rosemary (divided use)
- 15 sprigs fresh thyme (divided use)
- 2 medium onions
- 3 celery stalks
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 2 tbsp butter
- 1 tbsp flour
- 1 cup water
- Pan drippings
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Clean Cornish hens by removing the hairs from the skin and anything in the cavity of the birds. Rinse the birds under cold running water. Pat dry on a large cutting board and set aside.
- Slice onions into wedges and rough chop celery stalks. Place onions and celery in a shallow baking/casserole dish. Top the onions with 3 sprigs of rosemary and about 5 sprigs of thyme. Add garlic cloves and lemon slices to the dish. Set the dish aside.
- Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
- Make dry rub by combining salt, chicken seasoning, chili powder, Tuscan seasoning, paprika and black pepper in a small bowl. Mix well with a spoon.
- Season the outside of the hens liberally with the dry rub as well as the cavity of the birds. Tuck the wing tips and truss the legs of the birds. Place both birds directly on top of the aromatics. Place 2 sprigs of fresh rosemary and 2 sprigs(or more) of fresh thyme in the cavity of the birds. Drizzle with olive oil and bake for 50-60 minutes at 425 degrees. Use remaining fresh herbs and lemon to garnish the dish or platter.
- Make gravy starting with a roux of flour and butter. Cook the flour in the butter for about a minute. Add water and pan drippings. Cook until thickened. Add salt and pepper to taste.