Did You Know Cornish Game Hens Are Young Chickens?
My wife found this recipe in this past weekend’s Sunday’s New York Times Eating & Drinking section and decided to try it.
The recipe is called Grilled BBQ Cornish Game Hen, but I’m not sure where the BBQ part of the recipe is (and in our case, we didn’t even get the grilling right because we ran out of propane halfway through the cooking process).
No problem; like all home cooks, we could adapt and finish the game hens in the oven until they reached the desired internal temperature of 170° F and then 175° F after resting for 5 minutes. The recipe in the NY Times says to cook “until a meat thermometer inserted into breast meat reads 160 degrees”—but that’s a little rare for my tastes.
Cornish Game Hens
For years and years, I thought Cornish game hens were a unique breed of birds unrelated to chickens. I quickly learned that Cornish game hens are really just young chickens!
Instead of being raised 42 days to become a full-grown chicken, they are raised 28 to 32 days and stand about half the size of a typical chicken.
Cornish Game Hens also weigh much less than chickens today; this makes sense because of their size: a typical Rock Cornish hen weighs between 1.25 to 2.5 pounds compared to a supermarket chicken weighing between 5 to 7 pounds.
Cooking With Kids
My daughter helped prepare this recipe by making the vegetable vinaigrette (which is a bigger job than you might think) and sautéing the grapes for the garnish. The vinaigrette calls for Verjus, the “tart juice of unripe wine grapes.”
I couldn’t believe I had a bottle of Verjus in my pantry, but unfortunately, it had expired about 7 years ago. Instead, we substituted Champaign vinegar for the Verjus.
Grilled or Roasted Cornish Game Hens
- 3 Cornish game hens about 1¼ to 1¾ lbs each
- 6 shallots slice thinly
- 6 cloves garlic minced
- 1 bunch fresh parsley stemmed
- 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes optional in my opinion
For the vinaigrette
For the Garnish
- 2 teaspoons olive oil
- 1 bunch red grapes
Prep the Cornish Game Hens
- You need to remove the backbone from the hens and the easiest way to do this is with kitchen shears. Once the backbones are removed, lay them flat with the skin side up.
- Mix the shallots, garlic, parsley and red pepper flakes (optional) in a small bowl. Use your fingers to loosen the skin from the meat, then tuck the shallot/garlic mixture under the skin.
Prepare the Vinaigrette
- Mix all the ingredients in a small bowl. You can make this ahead of time and let the flavors meld together. If you refrigerate the vinaigrette, be sure to remove it from the fridge at least 15 minutes before planning to use it.
Prepare the Garnish
- Heat a medium sized skillet over medium-high heat, add oil, and grapes. Sauté grapes for 5 minutes until their skin starts to blister. Shake the pan for even cooking.
Grill/Roast the Cornish Game Hens
- I started out by grilling the game hens, but ran out of propane and didn’t want to take the time to start a charcoal fire. So, I preheated the oven to 350° F and finished the hens there.
- If you do grill the hens, I would use the 2 - Zone method where I start the birds on a hot part of the grill and finish on a cooler area of the grill with the lid down. Basically, you are searing the hens on the high heat and alternately roasting them on cooler part of the grill.
- Begin by laying the hens skin-side-down on the hot part of the grill and cook for 2 minutes. Turn the game hens 90 degrees and cook for another 2 minutes to create the attractive hash marks we all love so much.
- Turn the hens over but place them on the cooler part of the grill set to low. Cover and cook until a meat thermometer reads 170° F. Depending on your grill and the size of the birds, this should take about 20 minutes.
- Remove the Cornish game hens and set aside to rest for 5 to 10 minutes. I like to cover them with aluminum foil with some holes poked through.
- Spoon a generous amount of the vinaigrette onto a plate. The original recipe says to serve one whole game hen per person, but I cut mine in half for both the kids and the adults and found it to be plenty—I would rather go back for more than leave half a hen on the plate.
- Top each hen with a few of the grapes and serve with whatever sides you’ve decided.
Some of My Favorite Chicken Recipes
- Chicken Baked in Cornbread Recipe
- Sheet Pan Chicken with Roasted Plums Potatoes and Onions
- Quick and Easy Sweet and Sour Chicken Recipe
- Chicken Mushroom and Spinach Comfort Food Recipe
- Southern California Style Chicken with Rice and Beans Recipe
- Chicken Thighs with Mushrooms and Artichoke Hearts Recipe
- Simple Chicken - Tomato - Pasta Recipe
- Chicken Korma Recipe