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How to cook succulent cornish hens in your oven is something all home chefs should know! A cornish hen can make a rustic comfort meal for one, or several cornish hens can be served for an easy Thanksgiving meal that replaces a large turkey. Go beyond the holidays and cook year round. Learn all the ends and outs like what temperature to cook at, how to thaw, and how to cook hens that are stuffed!
The Thanksgiving season is upon us, and I'll be whipping up all kinds of winter dishes: sausage stuffing, my famous make ahead cranberry sauce, pumpkin trifle, molasses pumpkin pie, and more. But the true centerpiece of the holiday meal for us? Cornish Game Hens!
How pretty is this table setting with the cornish hens and fresh herbs as the centerpiece? How many of you have slaved over a giant turkey only to have your kiddos thumb their noses up and insist on eating nothing else besides rolls? Been there, done that! We have a large family, but very few of the family members are fans of the big Thanksgiving bird. But for those of us who are, these cornish hens are a lifesaver.
Everything to know about cooking cornish hens
After reading a bit about them, I've learned cornish hens are essentially a small chicken, a very specific breed. You can cook several at one time and serve them individually for each guest. They provide 1 to 1 ¼ lbs of meat, so a hearty serving for an adult. Or you can simple heat up your oven and have one for a nice comforting winter meal all to yourself.
I don't know what it is about these birds, but for some reason people are intimidated by them. Poor little guys. They get a tough wrap for no reason at all!
Because the reality is, they are beyond easy. If you can turn your oven on, work a baster and a temperature gauge-- well, then we are in business!
Today I'm gonna show you the nitty gritty on how to make the best cornish game hens with a simple recipe, and some other time saving hacks for making your holiday meals much more stress free! Let's get started!
How To Cook Cornish Hens:
Let's prepare our cornish hens for cooking in the oven. The number one obstacle I always come across is if I've thought about the hens in enough time to safely thaw them. I'm not the best at pre-planning, so I've been known to have to cut corners. You will find the Tyson® Cornish hens in the freezer section of your Sam's Club, therefore, they will need to properly defrost them.
How to thaw cornish hens:
- cornish hens will thaw in the refrigerator in 24-48 hours. Be sure to place it in a container to catch any drips or spills! You should use the hens 1-2 days after thawing.
- You can thaw cornish hens in their packaging in a sink full of cold water 4-6 hours before cooking. Just make sure the water stays cold, you'll need to change it approximately every 30 minutes. You should also weight your birds down so they don't float on top of the water. I use a plate for this, or sometimes a heavy lid from a pan.
- You can also use a microwave to thaw hens if you are in a hurry, but this is easier for a single bird or 2 vs more. You'll want to use the defrost mode and you'll need to enter the birds weight. You'll want to rotate it several times as well. If you microwave it to thaw it, you need to cook it immediately. Microwaves can be a little tricky when it comes to cooking some spots and not others and can harbor bacteria, hence why you should cook right away.
and then there is always the "oops I forgot to thaw my cornish hen! Good news! You can actually cook a frozen hen, but it will take about 50% longer, so you'll want to plan around that. Be sure to use your thermometer to ensure you have fully cooked it.
Now that we've thawed our hens, let's prep them before they go into the oven. The recipe included below is a simple recipe that makes a tasty hen. But the options don't end there. There are lots of ways to prepare hens, some of my favorites are: Cranberry Glazed Cornish Hens or another elegant take are these Cornish Hens with Pears, Bacon and Chestnuts.
Make the buttery mixture in the recipe below and set aside. Remove your hens from their packaging and rinse with cold water. I like to put mine on a baking sheet. Once they are all rinsed, pat them dry with paper towels. Then you rub them all over with that buttery mixture! Be sure to lift the skin up and place the seasoning directly on the breast meat, with your fingers squeezing in between the meat and the skin. Don't forget to also get the inside cavity as well!
Once your hens are all buttered up, place them on a roasting rack on a roasting pan. Mine is curved, I've found a flat one works best, but they both work. You can also fit 2 in a 9x13 baking pan if you are in a pinch. Pour over the apple juice on top of each hen. I like to turn my hens every 20 mins or so, but a lot of people don't. It's something I got in the habit of doing and now I can't stop. Besides, it gives me an excuse to baste those cute little hens! I've added onion slices and carrots to add to the apple juice and drippings, to give just a bit more flavor to the basting liquid.
So since, I've posted about cornish hens before, I notice I get a lot of the same questions over and over again, so I'd love to answer them for you. So let's start!
Do I have to truss my cornish hens?
Nope! These guys are so little, they are a bit floppy, but you can get by without the twine just fine. If you want to make a staggering and impressive display, then yes, by all means!
What temperature do you cook cornish hens?
I like to cook my hens a bit lower and slower at 350 degrees which takes approximately an hour to and hour and 15 minutes or so. Other popular recipes cook at 400 degrees for about 45 minutes to an hour. The main thing is to make sure you cook your hens all the way through. The one thing you HAVE to have when cooking hens is a temperature gauge. You'll want to test the thickest part of the thigh. You chicken will be done when it reaches 165 degrees. Be sure to NOT touch the bone, or you'll get an inaccurate reading (like I *might* have above).
Do you cover cornish hens when baking?
I don't because they cook for such a short amount of time. BUT if you notice your hens are getting a bit too toasty on the outside but they aren't to temperature yet, then yes, you should cover them. If the little wings or legs are getting too crispy you can snip some foil to just cover those areas.
Can you cook hens in an oven bag?
Some people swear by oven bags for keeping meat moist. Hens don't cook for hours on end like a bigger turkey so they don't dry out as fast. But you can always use these guys if you are a firm believer in them (just follow their instructions). They tend to not give as crispy of a skin, so that is one drawback. But there is a solution for that as well.
How do you make Cornish hens crispy?
Maybe you pulled yours out and it wasn't as brown as you liked. It's easy to fix. Simply place your oven in broil mode. Move your roasting pan up in the oven so your birds are about 2-4 inches from the heating element. Keep a keen eye on them, it can go from crispy to burnt really quickly. So really, don't look away!
Did you know you can stuff cornish hens with bread stuffing or rice? It's easy peasy, but it does require a few things. First, only stuff right before placing birds in the oven. You want to make sure you don't give bacteria a place to hang out. Next, don't over stuff. You want to leave some room, as stuffing actually expands as it cooks. Stuffing with rice is also pretty popular. You'll also want to make sure the stuffing has reached 165 degrees.
That wasn't so bad was it? I'll be honest, it's the side dishes that get me. I've done my best to try to organize my holiday dinners. First I make sure I have a list with EVERYTHING I need. Next, I pick one store that is going to have everything on that list. For me, that's Sam's Club. Not only do they have everything from home decor, last minute gifts, fresh bakery items, but they also have our family favorites like Tyson®, Jimmy Dean® and Hillshire® Farm.
You can spy some of these things on this side of our dining table. Don't you just love those pops of green? So festive. In the spring, I did a blue and white Ironstone tablescape, so this fall I wanted to do a green and white color scheme. On this side of the table we had green beans with bacon, and Hillshire Farm® Lit’l Smokies® Smoked Sausage in bbq sauce. My boys could each eat that whole bowl full! The white hydrangeas are from the floral department at Sams Club, and fit the colors of the table perfectly!
Another side dish I made was this apple stuffing with Jimmy Dean® Sausage. It was amazing and could be a meal on it's own! I love that Jimmy Dean® sells the 2 lb package of breakfast sausage at Sam's Club because I need at least that amount for feeding my crowd of boys! Especially around the holidays when you might have more guests for breakfast, it's always good to have on hand!
The other side of the table had the stuffing, and my famous make ahead cranberry sauce. It saves so much time! You can see the dessert table in the back. I picked up an apple pie, a cherry pie, and I also made a pumpkin trifle.
Did someone say pumpkin trifle? YEP! I used my favorite pumpkin custard recipe, pound cake from the Sam's Club bakery, and some whipped cream. It was divine!
Here's a close up of the table setting for those who have an ironstone obsession like me.
I grabbed them this fall when I was at the Round Top Texas Antique week. I wish I would have bought more, but I filled in what was missing with my sage plates. The water goblets are vintage glass dishes a friend found for me at an estate sale. They have an etched "H" on the front. Serendipitous when she found them that she thought of me and the letter was right!
This wooden cutting board was my biggest find this fall. It's at least 2 feet long and over a foot wide. It made the perfect serving piece for 4 cornish hens covered in fresh herbs. I used rosemary, oregano and Italian parsley. Parchment keeps any juices from seeping onto the board.
Shopping at Sam's Club makes my life so much easier. I can grab all the items I need for holiday gifts, treats and delicacies for our feasts, the cookware I need along with all the appliances, food for those 4 growing boys that never stop eating...The list goes on and on! It's one of my favorite holiday timesavers!
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