These Citrus Marinated Cornish Game Hens are perfect for a special occasion. Cornish game hens are marinated with orange juice and spices for an aromatic and impressive entree. The result is a dish that is lightly sweet and decadently spiced with a hint of citrus flavor.
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 infuse 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 until 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 until 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!
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Marinated Cornish Game Hens
- 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
- In a medium mixing bowl combine water, orange juice, sugar, salt and spices. Whisk to combine thoroughly.
- Rinse 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.
- Squeeze all the air out of the bags and place in a baking dish to prevent any liquid from leaking. Marinate in the refrigerator overnight.
- When 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).
- Brush each hen with 1/2 tbsp of olive oil.
- 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.
- Meanwhile, strain the remaining marinade into a medium saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat.
- Reduce heat to a a simmer and cook, letting the liquid slowly reduce until the the mixture is the consistency of a barbecue sauce.
- Once 90 minutes have passed, remove the hens from the oven and brush them with a generous amount of the sauce.
- Return to the oven for an additional 15 minutes, or until the hens reach an internal temperature of 170 degrees F. Serve hot.