These stuffed Cornish Hens are meant to impress! Stuffed with a flavorful wild rice stuffing and slathered in a triple-herb butter, these gamehens are elegant, absolutely delicious, and easier to make than you might think. This cornish game hen recipe is perfect for dinner parties, date night, and even Thanksgiving.
Table of Contents
What Are Cornish Game Hens?
Cornish hens, also called cornish game hens or rock cornish game hens, are a breed of chicken. They look and taste like chicken, but are far smaller.
On average, a cornish hen weighs between 1 and 2 pounds. Because of the meat to bone ratio, a single hen is generally just enough for one serving, which is partially the beauty of them—each person gets some light meat, dark meat, and a bit of that delicious skin.
How to Brine Cornish Hens
Because of their small size, cornish game hens only need a few hours in a brine to absorb the benefits. Frankly, if you’re in a time crunch, you can skip the brine. Brining isn’t necessary but it is an insurance policy for moist meat.
This cornish hen brine is simple—no added flavorings, just water and salt.
The rule of thumb for brining cornish hens: 3 quarts water + ¾ cup kosher salt and 2–3 hours brine time.
Instead of heating the brine (which is common but takes time to do and to cool), simply stir the salt into the water until dissolved. Plop the cornish hens in the water, cover, and brine in the refrigerator for two to three hours.
Test Kitchen Tips
- To ensure even cooking, buy cornish hens that are similar in weight.
- For moist, juicy meat, cook the hens to temperature instead of relying solely on cook time. Use an instant-read thermometer (affiliate, this is my fav kitchen tool) for accurate temperature readings.
- Pat the hens dry before roasting to ensure the skin browns.
- Like with any poultry, trim any loose skin.
- Brine and season the hens well.
- Save the pan drippings for gravy or a quick jus.
- There are a variety of ways you can cook cornish hens; roast, grill, and smoke are a few, but broiling or roasting is best for ease and consistency.
- For food safety reasons, it’s important that the stuffing is hot when spooned into the hens.
- Prep the hens: brine the hens for 2 hours (optional, but recommended). Rinse the hens, then thoroughly pat dry with paper towels.
- Make the herbed butter: mix together the softened butter, herbs, salt and pepper.
- Make the stuffing: prepare the stuffing and keep warm (or reheat) before stuffing the hens. For food safety reasons, it’s important that the stuffing is hot when spooned into the hens.
- Prep the pan: place a wire rack on a rimmed baking sheet and preheat your oven.
- Stuff the hens: stuff the hens with the warm wild rice stuffing and tie the legs together with kitchen twine. Place the hens, breast side down, on wire rack-lined baking sheet.
- Roast the hens: roast the hens until the backs start to turn golden brown. Spread some herb butter over the backs, then flip the hens, breast side up, and spread herb butter over breast and legs. Continue to roast the hens until the stuffed cavity registers 150ºF (65ºC).
- Increase the oven temp: brush the breasts and legs with more herbed butter, increase the oven temperature to 450ºF (232ºC)—this helps with browning—and continue to roast until the stuffed cavity register 160ºF (71ºC).
- Make the gravy: while the hens rest, make the gravy with the pan drippings.
We like to serve a whole hen per person, especially if the hens are around 1 ½ pounds. If you’re cooking slightly larger hens (2 pounds), you can cut the roasted hens in half and serve a half per person. In this case, we recommend doubling the wild rice stuffing and serving the extra on the side.
To cut the roasted hens in half, slice between the breasts with a sharp Chefs knife or cleaver, then use some force to cut through the bone. If needed, use sharp kitchen shears to cut the bone.
Serve cornish hens with the pan-drippings gravy, or make a jus (see recipe notes for instructions). Garnish with a few sprigs of fresh rosemary, thyme sprigs and/or bunched of sage. We also like to dress it up with a winter fruit such as pomegranate or citrus.
Serve Stuffed Cornish Hens With
Vegetable Side Dishes
We’ve got loads of vegetable side dishes for thanksgiving. Some of our favorites include our Roasted Beets & Carrots with Toasted Cumin Vinaigrette and Roasted Delicata Squash (sweet and salty—so good!).
If you’re looking for a mashed potato recipe, we’ve got some of those too! We also love a parnship mash for something a little different. And to mix up the menu even more, try our spectacular Savory Sweet Potato Casserole.
And because we’re big salad lovers over here, we think every Thanksgiving spread needs a salad (or two!). Some of our favorite salad recipes to serve with cornish hens include our uber-simple Fennel Salad, A modern and light Creamy Cucumber Salad, and of course our Apple Walnut Salad that’s to die for.
Dinner Rolls & Bread
Finally, we need to talk about dinner rolls and bread! We always love a batch of Japanese Milk Bread Rolls, but we also think there’s a time and place for our low-carb Nut & Seed Bread. Make these deli-style Kaiser Rolls to serve with the meal (then use as sandwich buns later). Or try this sweet potato version of classic dinner rolls.
How to Reheat Cornish Hens
Leftover roasted Cornish hens will last up to 4 days in the refrigerator or 3 months in the freezer.
To reheat cornish hens, we recommend placing them in a skillet over medium-low heat with a splash of broth and/or butter. Partially cover with a lid and cook until just warmed through. Alternatively, you can microwave leftover cornish hens. Place them on a plate and heat in the microwave for 1 minute. Test the temperature, then continue to reheat in 30-second increments until warmed through.
If you have leftover meat, use them in these recipes:
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Watch How to Make It
Wild Rice Stuffed Cornish Hens
- ¾ cup Morton kosher salt, or ½ cup table salt
- 4 Cornish game hens, each about 1 ½ pounds if possible, trimmed of extra fat, giblets removed
- 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
- 2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary
- Kosher salt and cracked black pepper
- 3 tablespoons white whole-wheat flour
- ¼ cup dry white wine
- 2 ½ cups low-sodium chicken broth
Wild Rice Stuffing:
- ¾ cups wild rice blend*
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- ½ cup chopped shallots
- ¼ cup minced carrot
- ¼ cup minced celery
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage
- ¼ cup dried tart cherries
- 2 tablespoons chopped parsley
- 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
- For the hens, dissolve salt in 3 quarts cold water in a large pot or bucket. Add hens, cover and refrigerate 2–3 hours. Remove hens, rinse thoroughly, and pat dry; prick skin all over breast and legs with point of a paring knife.
- Mash together 5 tablespoons butter, 1 tablespoon sage, thyme, rosemary, ½ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper in a small bowl; set aside.
Wild Rice Stuffing
- Meanwhile, for the stuffing, bring water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Stir in rice, bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low, cover and simmer until rice is cooked and fluffy, about 40 minutes.
- Heat 2 tablespoons butter in a medium sauté pan over medium-high. Add shallots, carrot, and celery; season with ¼ teaspoon salt and a pinch pepper; cook until vegetables are softened and starting to brown, 6–8 minutes. Stir in sage and cook 1 minute.
- Add cooked rice, cherries, parsley and vinegar, reduce heat to low and cook until warmed through. Remove from heat and set aside (or refrigerate) until ready to stuff hens.
- For the hens, adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 400ºF (204ºC). Place a wire rack inside a large rimmed baking sheet (at least 19-by-13–inch). Reheat stuffing in a sauté pan until steaming.
- Spoon ½ cup hot stuffing into cavity of each hen; tie each hens legs together with 6-inch piece of kitchen twine. Leaving as much space as possible between each hen, arrange them breast side down and wings facing out, on prepared rack-lined baking sheet. Roast until backs are golden brown, about 25 minutes.
- Remove sheet from oven, spread 1 teaspoon herb butter over back of each hen. Turn hens breast side up and wings facing out, and spread 2 teaspoons herb butter over breast and leg area of each hen. Return pan to oven, add 1 cup water to sheet pan, and roast until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the stuffed cavity registers about 150ºF (65ºC), about 20–30 minutes.
- Remove pan from oven again and spread 1 teaspoon herb butter over breast and leg area of each hen. Return sheet to oven, add another ½ cup water to sheet and increase oven temperature to 450ºF (232ºC).
- Roast until hens are spotty brown and cavity registers 160ºF (71ºC), 15–20 minutes more, depending on hen size. (You can also check thickest parts of breast, which should register 165ºF, and thickest part of thigh, which should register 170ºF). Remove hens from oven, spread remaining butter over each hen and rest 10 minutes.
- Meanwhile, pour drippings into a liquid measuring cup. Skim 3 tablespoons fat off top and add to a small saucepan over medium heat. Skim and discard remaining fat from drippings.
- Add flour to saucepan with fat and cook 2 minutes, whisking constantly. Slowly add remaining drippings, wine, and broth and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and cook until thickened, 5–8 minutes. Strain gravy through a fine mesh strainer into a serving dish or gravy boat.
- Serve cornish hens with gravy.
Thanksgiving Recipes To Try
This recipe article was originally published on November 11, 2020.
Wow! Can I give this recipe 10 stars! I made this last night for a couple friends and we were blown away. So flavorful and elegant. I am saving this recipe and will be making it for a smaller Thanksgiving gathering this year. Cheers!
Amazing recipe!! Served this for our friends wine night and everyone was so impressed. Thank you for making me look good.
Scrumptious recipe. Very clear directions and killer gravy.
This sounds amazing and I’d like to make it for a dinner party of 9. Do you think I could roast them ahead and then delicately reheat? Any tips?
Oooh great question! I think you could definitely do that. I would reheat them on a wire rack set in a baking sheet (with a bit of water in the baking sheet) in a 300-degree oven until warmed through. The water will keep them moist. Just make sure when you initially cook them that the stuffing gets to 160ºF.
I would then store them in the refrigerator either still on the wire rack set in the baking sheet or on a large platter and wrapped in plastic wrap. I hope that helps! Let me know how it goes.
I did a trial run with 2 hens. First, it was DELICIOUS and I just sort of winged it, as it was not exact. My husband and I ate the first one after letting it rest. We put the second one in the fridge on a rack and covered with foil. The next night, I preheated the oven to 300 and then popped it in till warm. While they were certainly still delicious, they were a bit drier the second day. Not enough to toss out or not eat it, just not quite as succulent as right out of the oven. It makes sense, it’s such a small bird, its delicate. So, I will be problem solving that for this weekend’s progressive dinner party. Thanks for such a wonderful recipe! Excited to serve it.
They turned out amazing and everyone loved them! Delicious!
Hi Katmandu, I’m so happy to hear everyone enjoyed them! Thanks for letting me know!
I was super intimidated to try cooking cornish hens. I found your recipe and we loved how it came out. Everyone was so impressed!
I’ll be making this recipe for the first time for Thanksgiving this year and I’m pretty excited about it. Question: do the dried tart cherries need to be unsweetened, or does it matter? Most of the ones in grocery stores are sweetened. The unsweetened ones are harder to find locally, but if that’s what’s called for, I’ll order some from an online vendor if need be. I don’t want to risk ruining the recipe by using the wrong cherry! Please advise. Thanks in advance. 🙂
Hey RJ, great question! You can use the sweetened dried cherries at your grocery store. I find unsweetened cherries add a nice tartness, but the sweetened ones will work just fine. I can’t wait to hear what you think!