A Chef's Recipe for Cornish Hens in the Oven

Season Cornish hens with olive oil and spices before baking them in the oven for a tasty, elevated dinner.
Image Credit: bhofack2/iStock/GettyImages

Cornish hens are a delicacy — these small birds are often reserved for special occasions as they're usually available at a higher price than regular chicken.

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Technically speaking, Cornish are immature chickens that are younger than five weeks old. Despite the name, they can be male or female, according to the USDA. Their young age and small size set them apart from traditional chicken, weighing about 2 pounds or less at the grocery store.

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Because they are high in protein, Cornish hens are a great main entrée. Just a 3-ounce serving has nearly 15 grams of protein for 170 calories, per the USDA. They're usually prepared by roasting or baking in the oven and served alongside seasoned vegetables.

If you're looking for a dish to elevate your dinner party, baked Cornish hens are a great way to go. Here, Michael Johnson, a private chef from Brighton, England, explains how to bake Cornish hens in the oven for a delicious meal.

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Things You'll Need

  • Cornish hens

  • Olive oil

  • Sea salt

  • Cracked black pepper

  • Garlic cloves

  • Thyme

  • Rosemary

  • Butter

  • Foil

  • Rimmed baking sheet or oven-safe casserole dish

  • Meat thermometer

  • Basting bulb ($13, Amazon) or large spoon

Step 1: Preheat the Oven

Preheat the oven to 360 degrees Fahrenheit. Johnson recommends warming up the oven while you gather your ingredients and kitchen tools.

Step 2: Place the Hens on a Baking Sheet

Place the birds on the casserole dish or baking sheet. Opt for a baking sheet that is large enough to ensure that the hens do not touch while in the oven, Johnson says.

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Step 3: Season With Olive Oil and Spices

Drizzle some olive oil over the hens and season well with sea salt and cracked black pepper. Crush some garlic cloves and scatter them over and around the hens. You can add thyme sprigs and rosemary, too.

Step 4: Add Butter

Before placing the hens into a hot oven, place cubes of butter on top of the birds. This adds both flavor and texture.

Step 5: Place the Hens in the Oven

Once the Cornish hens are arranged on a baking sheet and thoroughly seasoned, place them into the oven and cover the hens with aluminum foil so that they stay moist.

Bake them for about 45 minutes to 1 hour in total. The total baking time can vary depending on your oven and the size of the Cornish hens.

Step 6: Baste Halfway Through

Halfway through the overall cooking time, baste the hens. Basting is a culinary technique that involves moistening the surface of meat that may be prone to drying out.

To do this, open the oven door and pull out the baking sheet or dish with the hens and carefully uncover the foil. Use a basting bulb to extract liquid from the bottom of the baking sheet or dish and redistribute it onto the top of the Cornish hens. If you don't have a basting bulb, use a large spoon to pour some liquid over the hens.

Cover again with foil and return the hens to the oven to finish baking.

Step 7: Remove From the Oven

When cooking chicken of all types, it's important to make sure the bird is thoroughly cooked on the inside before serving. But, you may run the risk of overcooking the hens, which can dry them out.

Warning

The internal temperature of the cooked hens should be 165 F, according to the USDA.

While checking the temperature of the Cornish hens is optional, it is recommended and requires a meat thermometer. Once the hens are thoroughly cooked at an internal temp of 165 F, remove them from the oven.

Step 8: Let It Rest

Allow the hens to rest for 10 to 15 minutes before serving.

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