Rock Cornish Game Hens became one of my favorite poultry choices the first time I tasted one. Even the breast meat of these lovely birds is unusually juicy, tender and tasty. A fine brine raises those qualities to a melt-in-your mouth superlative level. When adding a scrumptious stuffing and a delightful glaze, the roasted hen becomes sublime.
What I did not know is that in the 1950’s, in America, Rock Cornish Game Hens were developed by breeding Cornish Game Cocks with White Plymouth Rock Hens. Combining the flavor of the game birds with the larger breasted Plymouth Rock Hens, they became popular as single serving poultry birds, usually 2 – 2 ½ Lbs. I find that one can feed two people when you include a stuffing and a side of roasted vegetables and potatoes.
I have made these birds with many different types of stuffing and glazes. My favorite recipe, which I have recently developed, includes a fruit and nut stuffing and honey citrus glaze. With no further ado, I present here my recipe for Rock Cornish Game Hens Stuffed with Apple, Orange, Dried Bing Cherries & Toasted Pecans, Glazed with Orange, Honey & Butter.
Serves 1-2 people, Prep time 1 hour plus overnight brining, Cook time 1 hour
Pre-heat oven to 475°F, reduce after 10 minutes of roasting to 350°F
The Bird & Sauce
- 1 Rock Cornish Game Hen - 2-2 ½ Lbs.
- 2 cups chicken stock, low salt
- ¼ cup Cognac (preferred) or Amontillado Sherry to deglaze the roasting pan and enrich the flavor of the sauce.
- 2 Tbs. white wine vinegar to balance the sweetness from the glaze drippings and help emulsify the sauce
- 1 quart of water warm enough to dissolve the salt and honey
- 2 Tbs. sea salt
- 2 Tbs. fresh lemon zest or 1 Tbs. dried lemon zest
- 1 Tbs. honey
- 1 Tbs. coarsely chopped fresh ginger root
- ¼ tsp. mustard seeds
- ¼ tsp. coriander seeds
- ¼ tsp. whole peppercorns, either black or white
- 1 firm red apple such as Fuji, Gala or Honey Crisp – cored and coarsely chopped
- 1 orange, tangerine, Mandarin or tangelo – zest and reserved for the glaze, juice one half of the fruit and reserve for the glaze, one half of the fruit peeled and coarsely chopped for the stuffing
- 1 small lemon, ripe – zest and reserved for the brine, juice for the stuffing
- ¼ cup dried Bing Cherries – each sliced in half
- 2 Tbs. cashews, toasted and coarsely chopped
- 1 tsp. chopped chives
- Large pinch of sea salt
- Pinch of red pepper flakes to taste
- ¼ cup of the reserved orange juice
- 2 – 3 Tbs. of the reserved orange zest
- 2 Tbs. of honey
- 2 Tbs. unsalted butter, warmed
- Pinch of salt to taste
Roasted Vegetables & Potatoes as a Wonderful Side
- 10 - 12 broccoli florets, about one cup
- 8 natural long baby carrots – peeled
- 8 asparagus tips
- 2 small red or Yukon potatoes - each wedged into 8ths
- 2 shallots – wedged into quarters
- 2 red radishes – wedged into quarters
- Olive oil for tossing vegetables – just enough for a very light coating
- Sea salt and ground pepper to taste
It is best to make the vegetable sizes equal so they cook at the same rate. Toss the vegetable ingredients together. If they drip any oil, using a slotted spoon, lift them onto a paper towel to drain to avoid smoking while roasting. Place them separately onto a parchment paper lined cooking sheet pan. Place onto the lower shelf of the oven while cooking the Rock Cornish Hen, after you have reduced the oven temperature to 350°F.
Directions for Oven Roasted Rock Cornish Game Hen Stuffed with Apple, Orange, dried Bing Cherries & Toasted Pecans and Glazed with Orange, Honey & Butter
Adjust the oven racks so that the top one is about 10 inches from the top of the oven, and the bottom rack allows the vegetable pan to fit in with inches to spare above it. Pre-heat the oven to 475°F.
1. Trim the excess fat from the interior of the bird leaving the skin in tact. You can render the fat for later use if you like. Just place it in the freezer until you are ready to utilize it. I don’t like wasting anything.
2. Mix the brine. Place the bird in a lidded 2 quart container, covering it with the brine completely. Refrigerate it overnight.
3. Mix the fruit and nut stuffing when you are ready to cook the hen. You can refrigerate and store it overnight if it is more expedient.
4. Drain and dry the bird thoroughly inside and out. Stuff the tail and neck cavities with the fruit & nut mixture, sewing them closed with fine string to keep the fruit and hen juices inside. You can also use toothpicks to secure the skin flaps closed.
5. Fold the wing tips under the bird to prevent them from burning. Truss the legs over the bird, binding them together during roasting. This also helps keep the stuffing pouch snug in the bird, especially if you choose not to stitch the neck and stomach skin flaps.
6. Place the stuffed trussed bird in a small roasting pan with a shallow rack to keep the bird off the bottom of the pan.
7. Fill the bottom of the pan with chicken stock just up to, but not touching the hen. This keeps the drippings from burning during roasting. Keep and eye on the liquid level and refill it occasionally during roasting to keep the drippings submerged. You can reduce the liquid later for a fruity meaty sauce.
8. Place the roasting pan on the top shelf of the 475°F oven. Roast the hen for about 10 minutes to seal the skin, trapping the moisture inside. Reduce the oven temperature to 350°F.
9. Whisk together the glazing ingredients, making sure the butter is fully homogenized. Brush the hen with the glaze after the skin has been sealed, then again every 15 minutes, being thorough, coating every inch, nook and cranny, except for the bottom, turning the pan each time for even browning. Roast for about 60 minutes total cook time, just until the internal temperature reaches 165° F -170° F.
10. Use the bottom shelf to roast the vegetables and potatoes as soon as you turn the oven down to 350°F. Turn each of the vegetables pieces over after about 10 minutes, or until they are browned on the bottom side. Roast them for another 5-10 minutes. Remove the cooked pieces to a plate when ready. If you cover them they will steam and loose their bright color. The different vegetables may cook at slightly different times according to their size and thickness. Potatoes may take longer. Total roasting time is bout 15 - 20 minutes.
11. When the Cornish Hen has reached an internal temperature 165° F -170° F remove it from the oven. Place the bird on a separate dish to capture any dripping juice. Let it rest uncovered for 5 minutes or so. If you cover the bird the skin will become shriveled and unsightly.
12. Cut and remove the trussing and binding strings, or toothpicks. Remove all of the stuffing into an insulated covered bowl, such as ceramic or glass to keep it warm.
13. Collect the pan drippings from the roasting pan to a saucepan. Include any juice that comes from the resting hen. To the roasting pan, add the cognac (preferred) or Amontillado Sherry and the white wine vinegar to deglaze the pan, loosening any stuck on browned bits while simmering and scraping. Add this to the saucepan. Reduce the whole mixture in the saucepan by carefully simmering the liquid until it is your desired consistency. The alcohol will burn off. Pour the sauce into a ceramic or glass gravy boat or bowl and cover it to keep it warm until it is ready to serve.
Serve the Rock Cornish Game Hen, whole or half, surrounded by roasted vegetables and potatoes, fruit and nut stuffing with gravy in the side dish.