Marinated Cornish Game Hens with Citrus & Spice

Marinated Cornish Game Hens - Small Roasted Chickens with Orange and Spices by Tori Avey

Comedian and pianist Victor Borge, affectionately known as “The Great Dane” or “The Clown Prince of Denmark,” may have played a role in bringing Cornish game hens into greater popularity during the 1950s. A Spokesman Review article published on April 18, 1959 claims that his farm in Southbury, Connecticut was one of the largest American producers of Cornish hens. Borge made appearances at supermarkets on behalf of his hens, which gave them something of a celebrity status. The article also includes his favorite recipe, which must be shared. It’s not exactly a kosher recipe, but it’s cute nonetheless!

Put the hen in a Dutch oven and do him in brown butter for 12 minutes. If you have a piano in the kitchen play the ‘Minuet Waltz’ 12 times. Add a little water. Put the lid on and let simmer. When you have finished playing half ‘The Dance of the Hours,’ dragging it slightly, you’re ready to eat like an epicure.

I grew up eating Cornish game hens; my grandma made them for my mom as a child, and she passed the tradition on to me. The hens we grew up eating were pretty simple, sprinkled with garlic salt and parsley, then roasted in a hot oven. My mom served them with steamed artichokes and salty chicken-flavored rice; it was my absolute favorite meal growing up. I still make them that way, in fact, and my stepdaughter loves them. Cooking Cornish game hens can be a bit tricky; though they’re small, they don’t cook very fast. It’s always best to use a meat thermometer to make sure your hens have reached a food safe temperature. I’ve underdone them a couple of times– it’s so disappointing to sit down to a meal, cut into the chicken and realize that it needs to cook for another half hour. Use a thermometer and make sure the juice runs clear to ensure your hens are fully cooked.

Recently, I decided to branch out a bit and infused my game hens with more flavor. I marinated them in orange juice, brown sugar, and a mix of spices that go well with citrus (a riff on my Spice Broiled Salmon recipe). After marinating, I stuffed the hens with orange slices and roasted them in a hot oven till almost done. I reduced the marinade on the stovetop to a thick sauce, which to my surprise took on a Middle Eastern citrusy barbecue-like flavor– really different and delish. I brushed the thickened sauce onto the top of the hens, then finished roasting them till the skin was dark brown and bubbly.

Holy mother of yum! These are not the game hens I ate growing up. I’ll always have a soft spot for garlic salt and chicken-flavored rice, but this is my new favorite Cornish game hen recipe. I have a feeling you’ll love it too!

Marinated Cornish Game Hens - Small Roasted Chickens with Orange and Spices by Tori Avey

Marinated Cornish Game Hens

Ingredients

  • 4 Cornish game hens
  • 3 cups cool water
  • 1 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
  • 1 medium orange
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 2 tbsp ground coriander (freshly ground coriander spice is best)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp allspice
  • 1 tsp ginger
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp turmeric

You will also need

  • Medium mixing bowl, whisk, 2 gallon sized resealable storage bags, large roasting pan, mesh strainer, medium saucepan, basting brush
Total Time: 1:45 - 2 Hours
Servings: 4 Cornish game hens
Kosher Key: Meat
  • In a medium mixing bowl combine water, orange juice, sugar, salt and spices. Whisk to combine thoroughly.
  • Marinated Cornish Game Hens - Small Roasted Chickens with Orange and Spices by Tori AveyRinse hens and trim off any excess fat or skin (do not remove all of the skin, only extra hanging pieces). Place them in gallon sized resealable storage bags (2 to a bag) and divide the brine evenly between the two. The spices may settle in the liquid, so give it a swirl as you're pouring it in.
  • Marinated Cornish Game Hens - Small Roasted Chickens with Orange and Spices by Tori AveySqueeze all the air out of the bags and place in a baking dish to prevent any liquid from leaking. Marinate in the refrigerator overnight.
  • Marinated Cornish Game Hens - Small Roasted Chickens with Orange and Spices by Tori AveyWhen you are ready to cook the hens, preheat your oven to 400 degrees F.
  • Place the hens in a roasting pan and reserve the marinade. Tuck an orange quarter inside of each hen, then truss with twine (simply wrap the drumstick ends together and secure with twine).
  • Marinated Cornish Game Hens - Small Roasted Chickens with Orange and Spices by Tori Avey  Brush each hen with 1/2 tbsp of olive oil.
  • Marinated Cornish Game Hens - Small Roasted Chickens with Orange and Spices by Tori Avey  Season with salt and pepper. I use about 1/4 tsp of each per hen. Roast the hens for 90 minutes, turning the roasting pan halfway through cooking to ensure even heat distribution.
  • Marinated Cornish Game Hens - Small Roasted Chickens with Orange and Spices by Tori Avey  Meanwhile, strain the remaining marinade into a medium saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat.
  • Marinated Cornish Game Hens - Small Roasted Chickens with Orange and Spices by Tori Avey  Reduce heat to a a simmer and cook, letting the liquid slowly reduce until the the mixture is the consistency of a barbecue sauce.
  • Marinated Cornish Game Hens - Small Roasted Chickens with Orange and Spices by Tori Avey  Once 90 minutes have passed, remove the hens from the oven and brush them with a generous amount of the sauce.
  • Marinated Cornish Game Hens - Small Roasted Chickens with Orange and Spices by Tori AveyReturn to the oven for an additional 15 minutes, or until the hens reach an internal temperature of 170 degrees F. Serve hot.
  • Marinated Cornish Game Hens - Small Roasted Chickens with Orange and Spices by Tori Avey

Comments (41)Post a Comment

    1. Hi Rebecca, the marinade could be used with chicken breasts, then reduced and brushed on as a sauce, but the cooking process for breasts would of course be very different.

  1. I love this! Because Im single and a large chicken is too much for me, so I buy 2 per month and their so little and roasted are the best! I marinate mine. You can make soup with them too but then add a tsp of powder chicken soup base.

  2. my mother in law had a great stuffing for Cornish hens from an old cooking show on tv called enies kitchen…jewish cooking… the stuffing is so great… has prunes garlic bread crumbs… sounds weird but even my kids loved it as young boys…

  3. Excellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 stars
    Just saw this in my In-box. Can’t wait to try it, as I bought Cornish hens recently. We love citrus in our family! Sounds like it would be delicious on a pork tenderloin as well. I wonder if adding some honey would also taste great?

    1. Amy try it, you’ll love it! Taste the marinade first, it is somewhat sweet already and probably doesn’t need the extra honey, especially since the marinade is reduced to a thick, sweet-ish sauce during cooking. I would worry that extra honey might result in the skin burning in the oven due to the extra sugar content. If you try it let me know how it goes!

    2. Thank you, that is a very good point! Burned hen would neither be presentable nor tasty! The hens are in the freezer, so sometime in the next week this will be a delicious meal! It’s sleeting and icing in the Dallas metroplex, so we are staying put by the fire and thinking up great things to cook. I’ve an herb pot roast in the crock pot for dinner, and homemade mac&cheese just finished for lunch. Thank you for your inspiring posts!

  4. back to the breasts – how would you cook them without the skin? would you simmer them in the sauce or would that make them tough and stringy? would you still bake them but basting all the time for 20 minutes?

    1. Hi Barbara, I would pound the breasts till they’re of an even thickness throughout. Marinate them as described in the recipe, then reduce the marinade to a sauce. Grill the breasts on a grill or grill pan till almost cooked through, then brush with the sauce and finish on the grill or under the broiler.

  5. Hi Tori

    I do not like cumin, is there another spice I can use to replace it or can I just leave it out altogether.

    1. Hi Caryl, so glad you enjoyed it. You can try it breast down; personally I haven’t found it makes a big difference to do this with chicken, not sure about smaller game hens though. The best way to ensure that the breast doesn’t dry out is to remove the chicken as soon as it reaches 170 degrees F. An electric probe monitor will help you time it just right.

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