Kitchen Experiment: Roasting a Cornish Game Hen

This is my first kitchen experiment post. This post will focus on my attempts to try something new in the kitchen. I think the best way to learn something new is to take a hands on approach. My hope is that reading these articles will help the readers learn a few things they didn’t know, and to help them avoid my mistakes.

Something I lack experience doing in the kitchen is roasting large birds (chickens, turkey, etc.). It is something I hope to be really good at one day. There are a few problems with practicing roasting. First, it yields a lot of food. Second, they take a long time to cook. Finally, it can get expensive. My solution? To practice roasting using a Cornish Game Hen. They are small, generally last one or two meals, and only cost $3.00.

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To begin, I did a little research. I knew there were a few staples I wanted to hit in my recipe:

  1. Brine the hen before roasting (keeps the bird moist during the cooking process)
  2. Stuff the hen before roasting (add flavor to the bird)
  3. Use a rub on the hen (for color and flavor)
  4. Use a compound Butter on the hen (for stuffing and basting)
  5. Serve with side dishes (to make the meal complete)
  6. Create a sauce (to tie together the hen and the side dishes)

I knew I was being ambitious – but I was strive for deep flavor in my cooking.

The hen was frozen from the supermarket and needed to be defrosted. Since that was going to take a while, I decided to kill two birds with one stone. I defrosted the bird in the brine. For the brine, I used a basic salt and sugar mixture. I placed the frozen bird in the middle of the bowl and covered it with water. I then added 2 tablespoons salt and 2 tablespoons sugar. I placed the bowl into the fridge. It took about 3 to 4 hours to defrost. Just a note about brining – you must brine for at least a half hour or there will be no effect on the bird. Likewise, do not brine for over 8 hours, it will over do it.

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Once the bird was fully defrosted, I made the compound butter by combining butter, honey, lemon, sage, thyme, garlic powder, and Worcestershire. Once combined, it was placed in the fridge so the flavors could meld together. This was the same compound butter I used last time I made a turkey. It came out great then and decided to use it again.

Next I prepared the stuffing. Although I did eat the stuffing, it wasn’t meant to be a traditional stuffing (there was no bread in it). This stuffing only consisted of chopped garlic, onion, and some of my compound butter. Chop, mix, then add into the bird.

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As side dishes, I decided to steam some fresh vegetables and roast some potatoes as well. The potatoes were to be made in the same pan as the hen. I chopped the potatoes into a uniform size and placed them into a roasting pan. I then seasoned them and added some white wine to the pan. I then put the rack on the pan and placed the bird on it.

With the hen on the rack, I was able to finish preparing it for the oven. I took some of the compound butter and placed it under the skin of the bird. I then mixed together salt, pepper, garlic powder, and paprika and rubbed it on top of the skin of the bird. I then drizzled a little olive oil and white wine on top.

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I placed the hen in a 350 degree oven with an intended cooking time of 2 hours. Every half hour, I opened the oven to baste it with the (melted) compound butter. The bird would be done when it reached an internal temperature of 165 degrees.

While the hen roasted, I prepared the sauce. I took white wine and reduced it by half. While it was reducing I added some chopped onion, garlic, and baby bella mushrooms to the wine. Once it finished reducing, I add the leftover compound butter, dijon mustard, cream, parmesan cheese, and chicken stock. I allowed the sauce to simmer for 45 more minutes.

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When the bird was finished cooking, I removed the stuffing (and mixed it with the steamed vegetables) cut the bird, plated everything, and topped the hen with the sauce.

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What went right:

The sauce – this sauce was delicious. I would have served it over pasta. It ended up going on all of the items of my plate (and the other people eating).

The potatoes – crispy on the outside, fluffy on the inside, bursting with flavor.

Overall flavor of the meal – You might have noticed I used a lot of the same ingredients in various parts of this recipe. When creating this meal, I wanted to use similar flavor profiles in different ways to create deep flavor. I felt it worked.

The hen – Moist and also full of flavor.

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What didn’t work:

The skin of the hen – I completely forgot about trying to make the skin crispy. The skin on my hen ended up soggy and inedible. I took it off and put it to the side. Next time, during the last 15 minutes of the cooking process, I am going to raise the temperature in the oven to 400 degrees to try to make the skin crispy.

Overall, I think I learned a lot about roasting. I am ready to make adjustments next time. Do you have any roasting tips, tricks, or secrets? How about an opinion on what I tried? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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  • Lisa

    I’m excited about this post. I think it will be my first culinary adventure in my new apartment, and I’ll be sure to take your advice to crisp-up the skin (soggy skin is a tragedy). I’ll be sure to let you know how any tweaks I make fair.

    Oh, by the way–I like how not only did your sauce end up going on everything on your plate, but also on all of the other people eating. That is definitely a sign that things went right… 😉

  • Fred the Head Chef.

    I bake with a foil tent over the birds for the 1st hour and a half, at 350 then remove the foil and turn the temp up to 375 for another hour. this is with the bird stuffed. half hour less if no stuffing. marinade for about 20 minutes before starting.. it is only a cornish hen and longer will make it too wet. happy eating.