Sage and Lemon Cornish Game Hen

Thanksgiving Cornish Hen

A Cornish Game Hen is a perfect option for a Thanksgiving Dinner for two, it’s a lot more affordable and faster to cook than a turkey.  This recipe is based on one from .  “Memorable Recipes” by Renee Behnke. I was so excited to see a great deal on Cornish Game Hens at our local grocery store.  It was two hens for $6!  They’re just the right size to have half a hen be a very filling main dish for each of us.  It’s great to shop the sales and what’s in season, a guaranteed way to save some money in your food budget.

raw cornish hen

The first step in the recipe is brining your hen.  This means soaking it in a salty seasoned bath.  But first, I like to prop my hen up and then make it dance like a puppet.  I know, I’m strange.  It’s just they’re so cute, like little pudgy toddler chickens.  They have so much personality!

white pepper

The brine calls for ground white pepper.  I happen to know I’m getting a pepper grinder for Christmas this year, but it will be for regular pepper.  I can’t afford a different grinder for every peppercorn I use, so I just grind mine with a mortar and pestle (If you want one they’re only $10! Great Christmas gift too).  Takes a little longer but a more affordable option for me.  If you don’t have white pepper I think black could be fine, just use a little less as it has a hotter flavor. I brined the hen about 15 hours.  I’d suggest anywhere from 12-24 hours, but if you’re short on time 4-6 hours would still work, it just might not be as juicy or flavorful.

Thanksgiving Bird Drumsticks

In the recipe I say to truss the tail and legs of the hen.  Truss is a nice sounding word for tying up.  You can see my first attempt at trussing like Julia Child.  This time was much easier, I just did the legs and tail, then tucked the wings into the body.  To truss this hen, cut a length of twine about 8-10 inches.  Lay the bird on its back just like in the picture above with the tail toward you (of course it will be raw when you’re trussing).  Place the center of the twine under the tail then cross it over the top of the tail.  Bring the two lengths up and over the drumstick ends and wrap them around the ends bringing the twine to meet again above the tail.  Pull tight and tie in a double knot.  Easy right?  Just cut off the long ends close to the knot when you’re done.

Cornish Hen wing blog size

Be careful stuffing the hen with the lemon, garlic, sage butter.  I got a little overzealous and stuffed so much under the skin the the skin burst in a few places as it started to get crispy.  It still tasted great and the meat was plenty juicy, but it’s definitely not as pretty.  To get under the skin, start at the tail end of the bird and slip your fingers under the skin toward the breast.  Slide your fingers around until you can feel the whole breast.  Repeat on the other side.  Then slip your fingers from the breast toward the drumstick and feel around until you find a loose spot in the skin and can reach through and touch the drumstick meat.  Now you have your access points to stuff with the butter mixture.

cornish hen half

You don’t have to save this bird for Thanksgiving.  We’ve had it for a nice basic dinner.  I’ve even made it hours in advance, refrigerated it, and then heated it in a 300 degree oven until just warm.  It’s really versatile, in the photo above I served it with crispy oven fries and baby spinach in a honey Dijon dressing.  If you want to serve it for Thanksgiving and have more than two people, plan on 1 chicken for every 2 people.  Increase the amount of water in the brine to cover the chicken.  If using more than 5 extra cups of water double the other ingredients in the brine.  The current butter mixture can stuff two chickens (since I way overstuffed mine) and you can double it for more.

roast cornish hen for the holidays

Sage and Lemon Cornish Game Hen

serves 2

Ingredients

Brine:
6 cups water
2 TBS kosher salt
2 TBS Worcestershire sauce
1 1/2 tsp ground white pepper
1 TBS garlic powder
Hen:
1 cornish game hen around 1.5 lbs
1 lemon half
4 sage leaves
1 TBS olive oil
salt and black pepper
Sage Garlic Butter:
2 TBS unsalted butter at room temperature
2 cloves minced or pressed garlic
1 tsp finely grated lemon zest
1 TBS lemon juice
2 TBS fresh chopped parsley
1 tsp finely chopped fresh sage

Instructions

Make the brine by combining water, salt, Worcestershire, white pepper and garlic powder in a very large bowl or stockpot big enough to hold your hen (or hens).  Whisk the mixture until the salt is dissolved.  Add the game hen, cover and refrigerate at least 12 or up to 24 hours.  Turn the hen a few times to ensure it brines evenly.

For the garlic butter (which can also be made a day in advance), combine butter, garlic, lemon zest, lemon juice, parsley, and sage in a small bowl.  Stir thoroughly to blend.  Refrigerate until ready to serve, but allow the butter to come to room temperature before using.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Drain the hen and discard the brine.  Rinse hen under cold water and pat dry with paper towels.  Place lemon half and 4 sage leaves in the cavity.

Rub garlic butter mixture into the breast and drumstick meat under the skin.  Rub the outside of the hen with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Truss the legs and tail.

Set hen in a roasting pan breast up and roast for 35 minutes.  Flip it over and roast another 15-20 minutes or until instant read thermometer registers 175 degrees F.  Transfer hen to a  platter cover with foil for 10 minutes before serving.

Discard the lemon half and use heavy kitchen shears to halve the bird, cutting first down the center of the breastbone, then down either side of the backbone (you can discard the backbone).  Set the hen halves on individual plates.

Optional: Pour roasting juices into a pot, add juice from the lemon half and simmer 5 minutes.  Spoon roasting juices over hen halves.  I skipped this because the hens were so flavorful as is.

Approximate cost/serving: It only cost $3.40 for one hen.  That means just $1.70 a serving for your holiday main course!

Gluten Free: Make sure your garlic powder doesn’t have any additives with gluten, other than that you’re good to go.


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16 Responses to “Sage and Lemon Cornish Game Hen”

  1. Mardi @eatlivetravelwrite
    November 25, 2009 at 5:39 pm #

    Diana – that looks great! We often have a Cornish Hen if we want a little something gourmet without too much fuss! Will be bookmarking this recipe for sure.

  2. jenn
    November 25, 2009 at 10:47 pm #

    ovely. I had cornish hen last year. Pretty easy compared to the dreaded turkey. This year I’m trying my hand at some duck. Eek. We’ll see how that goes.

  3. Michelle
    November 26, 2009 at 12:30 pm #

    There is just my hubby and my little boy this Thanksgiving, so this is a perfect solution for a family of three. We will be using this recipe and I am sure loving it. Thanks!

  4. nina
    November 27, 2009 at 12:28 am #

    I have never thought of brine-ing a chicken first? So to sound so stupid, but does it enhance tha flavor or what is the purpose…..

    If it is to make my bird look as utterly irresistible like yours then I am all for it!!!

    • diana
      November 27, 2009 at 9:05 am #

      Michelle, you have to let me know how it turned out!

      Nina, that is not a stupid question at all, it’s something I’ve wondered myself. The purpose of the brine is to enhance the flavor of the chicken and to increase the plump juiciness. If you want a technical understanding of how it works, here’s a post written by an engineer about it.

  5. Doug
    January 31, 2010 at 7:39 pm #

    Another solution for grinding peppercorns. I use a coffee grinder, it’s great for getting a coarse or fine grind that is pretty consistant. Be sure not to have any coffee remnants in there before grinding. Hope the tip helps some of you.

  6. Jackie
    November 30, 2010 at 8:23 pm #

    Hi Dianna

    What type of salt did you use in the brine, table salt, kosher salt, sea salt etc.

  7. diana
    December 1, 2010 at 9:02 am #

    Great question Jackie, I used kosher salt, I’ll update the recipe w/that info. Thanks!

  8. Coleman
    January 30, 2011 at 9:17 pm #

    Hi and thank you for this amazing recipe! I had never heard of the brine method for poultry and I must say it makes a huge difference in flavor and moistness. The sage, garlic and butter add an incredible that is beyond compare. This dinner was quite a hit with my guests. I served it with baby carrots and small potatoes boiled and then caramelized in butter. I also had Brussels sprouts simmered in beer and then salted with butter. Thank you again! I have bookmarked your blog and will be checking back for more delights. :)

  9. Cornish Hen Recipes
    September 28, 2011 at 11:16 pm #

    Hello Diana,

    First of all thank you very mush for this post. I love cornish hens so much, that’s why Ive open a whole blog just to write about cornish hen recipes. If you can give me a permission, I want to copy this post into my blog. Thank you Diana! God bless you.

    • diana
      September 29, 2011 at 7:46 am #

      Thank you for asking. My recipes are my source of income for my family. The post and recipes are copyrighted. You may post a photo and intro paragraph on your blog and link to the recipe on my blog if you’d like though.

  10. Lynn g
    November 20, 2011 at 9:34 pm #

    I cannot wait to do this recipe, Diana! The narative is entertaining and informative. I also appreciate Doug’s suggestion of using a coffee grinder to grind your white pepper. After digging mine out of a cupboard, I used canned air to clean it.

  11. Carole
    April 12, 2013 at 2:40 pm #

    Hi there. The current Food on Friday on Carole’s Chatter is collecting links to dishes using duck or other game birds. I do hope you link this in. This is the link . It would be great if you checked out some of the other links – there are some good ones already. Cheers

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