Cornish Game Hens


My Mom always made Cornish Game Hens for Christmas Eve dinner.  I remember how exciting it was when each of us had our own tiny chicken on the plate, for us to carve apart and eat without sharing with anyone.  For some reason that little taste of avarice made that meal in the season of giving so much better. haha. 😉  “Perhaps I had a wicked childhood . . .” hehe.

Cornish hens are a beautiful, impressive meal to enjoy for a special meal anytime.  They are delicious and moist, with a sweetly savory cranberry rice stuffing (which incidentally makes them gluten free!) and golden, crisp skin.  Give these little sweethearts a try and you just might find your new “go to” fancy dinner entree for Christmas, Valentine’s day, or any day in between.  🙂

What are we waiting for?  Let’s do this!

Cornish Game Hens

(adapted from Taste of Home)


4 Cornish hens, rinsed

1 onion, finely chopped

2 celery stalks, chopped

3 tbsp. butter or margarine

3 cups fully cooked white rice

3/4 cup craisins (may substitute raisins)

1/3 cup chopped walnuts or pecans

3 tbsp. honey

2 tbsp. lemon juice (roughly the juice from 1 lemon)

3/4 tsp. cinnamon

1/2 tsp. salt

1/4 tsp. black pepper

Vegetable oil and additional salt/pepper for finishing hens, optional


Saute onion and celery in the butter until vegetables are softened and translucent.  Remove the vegetables from the heat and stir together with cooked white rice, craisins, walnuts, honey, lemon juice, and spices.  Rinse hens and dry their cavities and skins with paper towels.  Stuff hens with the rice stuffing and tie legs together with baker’s twine.  Place hens in greased roasting pan and pour in enough water to cover the bottom of the pan.  Drizzle a little oil over the top of each hen, rubbing it in with your fingers.  Sprinkle the top of each hen with salt and pepper and bake uncovered at 375, basting every half hour, until a meat thermometer inserted at the thigh reads 160 degrees.  Baking time should be based on the thermometer reading, but it generally takes about 1.5 hours to bake the hens and crisp the skin.  Allow hens to rest for 10 minutes before serving.

Now, in pictures 🙂

The real magic of this recipe is in the stuffing.  I have seldom found a stuffing recipe that I like, because I find that most stuffing recipes get too moist for me when roasted inside the bird.  This stuffing is rice-based, which means it resists getting overly wet.  Rice rather than traditional bread crumbs also makes it awesomely gluten free! 🙂  The flavor from being roasted inside the cavity is divine and meaty, paired with the sweet smokiness of the vegetables and spices.  You can make the stuffing the day before you need it and then just stuff your hens when you are ready to bake them.  Save time and have your kitchen smell good for 2 days in a row. Win, win. 🙂

The first thing I do when making this stuffing is to start my rice simmering.  Spray your pan with cooking spray so you don’t get that “sticky white layer” on the bottom of the pan.  As the rice is simmering away, saute your onions and celery in the butter.  If you use a cast iron skillet (my favorite is this beauty from Le Creuset, here) you will get a nice caramelized sear on the vegetables.

When your onions and celery are softened and almost see through, mix together your vegetable mixture, fully cooked rice, craisins, nuts, lemon juice, honey, and spices.  Stir until everything is well combined.  At this point you can cover the mixture with plastic wrap and refrigerate it until tomorrow, if you want.  If you want to roast your hens right away, let’s move forward to stuffing the gals with this gorgeous mixture. 🙂

“Oh my goodness I couldn’t eat another thing I’m SO STUFFED!”  bwahaha.  Sorry I couldn’t resist.

Rinse your hens and dab them dry (including inside the cavity) with paper towels.  Divide the stuffing among the hens and stuff the cavities.  At this point the gals don’t look very ladylike with those legs apart. HUSSIES!!!

Get some baker’s twine and tie those legs closed.  Tsk tsk.  That’s much better.  Drizzle a little oil overtop of each hen and rub it into the crevices and sides.  Don’t forget to get that little spot inside the wing.  Then salt and pepper the birds as well, using your hands to dab spices on the sides and into those crevices so that all the meat is seasoned.

Cornish Game Hens

Put the hens into a greased roasting pan and pour in just enough water to cover the bottom of the pan. If you see the pan getting dry during roasting, add a little extra water so that nothing sticks or burns.

Cornish Game Hens

Roast the meat, uncovered, at 375 degrees for roughly 1 1/2 hours.  Baste the meat every 1/2 hour or so, give or take. Basically, when you think of it, pour some pan juice overtop of the hens.  It sounds fancy but it really just means keep them juicy and moist.

Cornish Game Hens

Roasting times are just estimates.  You really have to go by the internal temperature of the meat.  I prefer well done chicken, so I like to get my hens to 160 degrees.  Put your meat thermometer into the crease between the thigh to get your reading, and when you are almost to 160 take the hens out of the oven.  They need to sit for about 10 minutes before serving so the juices can recirculate, and the temperature will rise a few degrees during the resting period.  Tent them loosely with foil while they rest to keep them warm.

Cornish Game Hens

After 10 minutes these crisp, golden little beauties will look like they just had a Florida vacation.  So beautiful, aren’t they?  Can you believe you just MADE that?  Wow. You’re amazing. I love working with you.

Cornish Game Hens

Move those cute little chickies to a big platter. Surround them with fresh herbs like rosemary or sage.  Fresh cranberries. Orange or lemon wedges if you have them.  Drizzle the hens with the pan juices.  Serve your platter of beautiful loveliness to your family and hear the “oohs” and “ahhs.”  Soak up those accolades. You deserve every one. 🙂

You did it. And I’m just so proud of you.

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