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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
Sage and Lemon Cornish Game Henserves 2
6 cups water
2 TBS kosher salt
2 TBS Worcestershire sauce
1 1/2 tsp ground white pepper
1 TBS garlic powder
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
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.