These tender herbed Cornish game hens will become your favorite dinner party recipe! They’re smothered in herb butter and stuffed with lemon and rosemary. They’re juicy, crispy, and charming, require only 6 main ingredients, and take just 45 minutes to roast and 15 minutes to rest! No basting or brining required!
Herbed Cornish Game Hen
I love Cornish game hen recipes! I love them, especially for dinner parties. I made these for my Autumn New Moon dinner party, and they were such a lovely main course! I served them with roasted rainbow carrots, garlic and chive mashed potatoes, creamy white wine mushroom sauce, rubbed kale and grape salad, and a Sorel blackberry cheesecake for dessert! It was such a gorgeously rustic menu for such an enchanting party.
Cornish game hens aren’t a special breed of poultry, they’re just very young chickens. They’re essentially the “veal of chicken,” in a way. They’re extra tender and 1 hen is a perfect amount for a single person, so each dinner guest can have their own.
They’re easy to prepare ahead of time and simply pop in the oven for 45 minutes once guests arrive! And since they’re best when given 15-20 minutes to rest once removed from the oven, you’ll have plenty of time to heat your sides while they rest!
You’ll most often find these little hens frozen in the poultry aisle, but don’t believe what you read about them needing only 24 hours to thaw! If you refrigerate them frozen, I’ve found they need a whole 2-3 days to thaw completely, and you can’t simply pop them in the oven half-frozen, and expect them to cook correctly.
Don’t worry, though – if you want to serve them this evening, and they’re still frozen solid, I’ll explain how to quickly (and safely) thaw them for roasting in the Common Questions section below.
If they’re unfrozen, be sure to roast them within 2-3 days.
The Simple Process
First, we’ll make garlic-herb butter with rosemary, thyme, and garlic.
Next, we’ll pat our hens dry with a paper towel, stuff them with rosemary and lemon, and tie their little legs together with baker’s string to keep them extra tender.
Then, we’ll give them a luxurious massage with the butter, season them with salt and pepper, and pop them in the oven.
Finally, we’ll bake them for 40-45 minutes, let them sit for 15-20 minutes, snip the little strings, and serve.
cornish game hen – They can sometimes be a little tricky to find in some grocery stores, but they’re regularly available in stores like Whole Foods and on Amazon Fresh. As mentioned above, they can take up to 3 days to thaw if frozen. See my Common Questions section below on how to thaw them faster if you’re making these in a pinch.
butter – Use a salted butter. This will ensure that your hen is salted all over. Make sure to place it out at least an hour before preparing your hens. You want it to be very soft (but not melted). You can also place it in the microwave for 15-20 seconds to speed the softening.
rosemary and thyme – Use only fresh herbs. You can include the rosemary stems as long as it’s very well minced.
garlic – I use 6 garlic cloves in my recipe, but you can use a little more or a little less depending on your garlic-loving preference.
lemon – You’ll use lemon to stuff the hens, but you can also use orange or even apple.
How to Make This Recipe Step-by-Step
1. Preheat oven to 450 F. Mince 2 tbsp. fresh rosemary and 6 garlic cloves. Remove 2 tbsp. thyme leaves from stems. Stir herbs and garlic into 6 tbsp. very softened salted butter.
2. Slice 1- 2 lemons into wedges. You’ll use these to stuff the hens.
3. Place 5 Cornish game hens breast-up on a cutting board, and pat them dry with a paper towel.
4. Stuff each with 1-2 lemon wedges and 1-2 small sprigs of rosemary.
5. To make hens extra tender, tie the legs close to the body. Cut a foot of baker’s string, and tie one leg, leaving about 3 inches of string on one side.
6. Use the longer string to wrap around the other leg once or twice, draw it right next to the other, and tie the string tightly – and don’t worry, the string won’t burn while they roast.
7. Place the hens in a 10×15-inch baking Pyrex, breast-up, and rub the herb butter over every inch. You don’t have to get the bottom side, but really slather the entire tops, and around the legs. Season liberally with salt and pepper.
8. Roast them in the oven for 40-45 minutes until a meat thermometer reads 160 F. Remove and tent them with foil. They will continue to cook and reach 165 F. while tented. Once rested for 15 minutes, remove their little strings and serve.
As mentioned above, it is commonly said that they will thaw within 24 hours when refrigerated. In my experience, this is not true. I’ve had hens stay frozen solid for a full 3 days! So if you have a dinner party this evening, and need to thaw them fast, here’s the best way: firstly, never leave them out at room temperature. They will become breeding grounds for bacteria.
The fastest you can thaw them (safely) is between 4-5 hours by placing them in a bowl of cold water. Their icy temperature will keep the water just cool enough for them to safely thaw and not spoil in the process. After 4 hours, check to see how they feel, if they’re thawed, you can remove them. If they’re not, another hour in the water should do it. If you’re not preparing them right after, place them right back in the fridge and roast within 2-3 days.
They won’t be quite as tasty as they were fresh out of the oven, but to reheat them, place them in a Pyrex, cover them with tin foil, and bake at 400 F. for 20 minutes. To crisp up the skin a little, remove the foil, and bake for 5 minutes more.
They will last nicely in a covered, refrigerated container for 3-4 days.
To make them EXTRA tasty, place herb butter under the skin, as well as all over the hen. To do this, you’ll use a paring knife to slice the skin away from the meat, close to the hen’s cavity.
Gently separate the skin between the meat all the way up and around the breast, doing your best not to slice into the meat, or rip the skin. Then, use a small spoon to spoon herb butter underneath and all the way over the breast meat.
(Sorry for the gross pictures, but I know visual aids can be helpful for this kind of thing. Here’s a nice picture to make you feel better).
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A Little Side Dish Inspiration
Herbed Cornish Game Hen
- 1 mixing bowl
- 1 cutting board and knife
- 1 paper towel
- 1 bakers string – if you would like to truss (tie) the hen legs
- 1 10×15-inch baking Pyrex
- 1 meat thermometer
- 5 Cornish game hens
- 6 tbsp. salted butter – softened
- 2 lemons
- 2 tbsp. fresh rosemary – minced – and about 5 sprigs for stuffing
- 6 garlic cloves – minced
- 2 tbsp. thyme leaves
- salt and pepper – a liberal sprinkle
- Preheat oven to 450 F. Mince 2 tbsp. fresh rosemary and 6 garlic cloves. Remove 2 tbsp. thyme leaves from stems. Stir herbs and garlic into 6 tbsp. very softened salted butter.
- Slice 1- 2 lemons into wedges. You’ll use these to stuff the hens.
- Place 5 Cornish game hens breast-up on a cutting board, and pat them dry with a paper towel. Stuff each with 1-2 lemon wedges and 1-2 small sprigs of rosemary.
- Place the hens in a 10×15-inch baking Pyrex, breast-up, and rub the herb butter over every inch. You don’t have to get the bottom side, but really slather the entire tops and around the legs. Season with salt and pepper.
- Roast them in the oven for 40-45 minutes until a meat thermometer reads 160 F. Remove and tent them with foil. They will continue to cook and reach 165 F. while tented. Once tented and rested for 15 minutes, remove their little strings and serve.