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Craving a dinner that impresses without breaking a sweat? This oven-roasted stuffed Cornish game hen recipe is surprisingly simple yet elegant. The hens are roasted to a golden, crispy perfection but the real star is the flavorful wild rice stuffing made with cranberries, walnuts, and sage. It adds a touch of festive flair without sacrificing ease. Their single-person portions make them perfect for holidays, intimate gatherings, or family Sunday dinner. This recipe delivers restaurant-quality flavors without the fuss and let’s face it, they look absolutely stunning on a plate.
What are Cornish Game Hens
A Cornish game hen (or Rock Cornish game hen) is not a true game bird, but rather a specially bred variety of chicken – a cross between a Cornish chicken (known for its meaty chest) and the White Plymouth Rock chicken(known for its fast growth). Think of it as the “mini me” of the chicken world, harvested young (around 5-6 weeks old) and weighing no more than 2 pounds.
Cornish game hens pack a flavorful punch. Their meat is tender and moist, with a slightly sweet taste reminiscent of chicken but with a finer texture. This makes them incredibly versatile in the kitchen, readily absorbing marinades, spices, and stuffings and able to be roasted, grilled, fried.
Key Ingredients and Substitutions
This recipe offers a delicious duo: succulent roasted Cornish hens and a savory wild rice stuffing.
In the printable recipe below, you can find a complete list of ingredients and measurements.
Wild Rice Stuffing
- Wild Rice: You can use your favorite mix of wild, white, brown and red rice. You can also use a brown and long grain rice blend.
- Shallots: A sweet, milder cousin of onions that adds a delicate oniony depth without overpowering the stuffing. Substitute with green onions for a milder punch or red onion for a bolder flavor.
- Celery: Crunchy and refreshing, celery brings a light, earthy note and textural contrast. Substitute with chopped fennel or even your favorite type of apple for a similar crunch and sweetness.
- Poultry seasoning: This blend of herbs and spices like thyme, sage, and rosemary adds instant savory depth. Substitute with a combination of these individual herbs or Italian seasoning for a similar profile.
- Sage: This earthy herb with hints of citrus and mint is a classic pairing with poultry and stuffing. Substitute with thyme or rosemary for a similar warmth, or omit for a milder flavor.
- Cranberries: These tart berries add a burst of sweetness and acidity to balance savory flavors. Substitute with dried cherries or chopped dried apricots for a similar sweet-tart contrast.
- Walnuts: Crunchy and nutty, walnuts add textural interest and rich flavor. Substitute with chopped pecans or almonds for a similar crunch, or sunflower seeds for a nut-free option.
Cornish Game Hens
- Cornish Game Hens: The star of the show. These young chickens are perfect for individual servings. They are almost always sold frozen, so plan ahead and give them ample time to thaw. You’ll usually find them in packs of two in the freezer section of your grocery store. Aim for 1 ½ pounds per hen to ensure everyone gets their fill.
- Unsalted butter: Adds richness and helps the hens brown beautifully. You can substitute with olive oil or ghee for a similar effect.
How to Make Stuffed Cornish Game Hens
Here are the quick step-by-step instructions with visuals; you can find the full instructions with the exact ingredients in the recipe card below.
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Pro-tip: If you’re worried about the hens drying out, you can tent them with foil during the last part of the cooking time.
Wild Rice Stuffing
1. Cook the rice: Rinse the wild rice in a fine-mesh strainer and cook according to package instructions then set aside. If there are no package instructions, combine the wild rice and kosher salt with 1¼ cup of water in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring everything to a boil then reduce the heat, cover, and simmer for 25-30 minutes or until the rice is tender and cooked through. Fluff the rice with a fork and set aside.
2. Prepare the stuffing: In a medium skillet melt the butter over medium heat then add the chopped shallots and celery. Allow them to cook until they are soft, about 5 minutes then stir in the poultry seasoning, sage, salt, and pepper. Cook everything for an additional minute to allow the herbs and spices to bloom. To the skillet add the cooked wild rice, cranberries, and walnuts then stir to combine.
Cornish Game Hens
1. Stuff the hens: Spoon ½ cup of stuffing into the cavity of each hen, packing it loosely then close the cavity by tying the hens legs together with kitchen twine. Place the hens on a wire rack-lined baking pan breast side up then pat them dry with a paper towel. Brush the tops of the hens with the room temperature butter and season the with salt and pepper.
2. Roast the hens: Place the Cornish game hens in a pre-heated 425℉ oven and roast for 20 minutes then reduce oven temperature to 350℉. Continue to roast them for an additional 30-40 or until they are cooked through. The internal temperature should reach 165℉ for the stuffing and 180℉ in the thickest part of the thigh . Allow the hens rest for 10 minutes before carving and serving.
What to Serve with Stuffed Cornish Game Hens
Wild rice stuffed Cornish game hens are a delicious and impressive main course all by themselves, but no meal is complete without some stunning side dishes to complement it.
- Roasted root vegetables: Match the richness of the stuffing with earthy, caramelized root vegetables like roasted sweet potatoes, parsnips, carrots, which could pair nicely with Brussels sprouts. Toss them with olive oil, herbs, and a touch of honey for a sweet and savory finish.
- Green beans: Keep things light and fresh with a side of steamed or roasted green beans. Add a bit of garlic, lemon zest, or almonds for extra flavor.
- A simple salad: A mix of leafy greens, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, and a light vinaigrette is a light contrast to the richer flavors of the stuffed hens.
- Mashed potatoes: Creamy mashed potatoes are always a crowd-pleaser and pair beautifully with the savory stuffing. Add a little roasted garlic, rosemary, or Parmesan cheese for extra flavor.
- Cranberry sauce: A classic accompaniment to poultry, cranberry sauce adds a tart and tangy counterpoint to the richness of the hens. You can make your own or use a store-bought brand.
Make-Ahead and Storage
Make-Ahead: You can make the wild rice stuffing up to 2 days in advance. Let it cool completely, then store it in an airtight container in the refrigerator. When ready to cook, bring the stuffing to room temperature before filling the hens. The hens can also be prepped a day ahead. Once stuffed, gently tuck the wing tips under the body and tie the legs together with kitchen twine. Store the hens in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours.
How to Store: Allow the cooked hens to cool completely before storing. Remove any stuffing leftovers from the cavity and store them separately. Place the hens and stuffing in separate airtight containers in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. You can also freeze cooked and cooled hens for up to 2 months. Wrap each hen individually in plastic wrap and then place them in a freezer bag.
How to Reheat: The best way to reheat cooked hens is in the oven. Thaw frozen hens completely in the refrigerator overnight. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Place the hens in a baking dish with a splash of broth or water, cover loosely with foil, and bake for 20-25 minutes. To prevent the skin from drying out during reheating, baste the hens with oil or melted butter halfway through the process. Ensure the internal temperature of the hens reaches 165°F for safe consumption.
Recipe Tips and Notes
- For food safety, the USDA recommends that poultry including Cornish game hens not be washed prior to cooking.
- Get creative with your stuffing by adding other ingredients such as mushrooms, apples, or sausage. Or stuff the birds with a bread or cornbread stuffing instead of wild rice.
- Let the Cornish game hens rest prior to serving to allow the juices to redistribute.
- Don’t overstuff the hens, or the stuffing might burst out during the roasting.
Frequently Asked Questions
Yes, thaw them slowly in the refrigerator overnight for best results. For food safety avoid thawing at room temperature.
One hen is typically enough for one person.
Cornish game hens are a specific breed, while “chicken” can refer to any domestic fowl. Hens are smaller, have more tender meat, and cook faster than regular chickens.
No, they’re delicious unstuffed too! But stuffing adds flavor and moisture. If you choose not to stuff them, we suggest rubbing them with herbs and spices, marinating them, or brushing them with glaze or sauce.
Brining is not necessary but can add extra flavor and moisture. This is a simple brine that you can use just reduce the ingredient measurements based on the number of hens you will be brining.
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Stuffed Cornish Game Hens
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- Wire Rack
Wild Rice Stuffing
- ½ cup wild rice, uncooked
- ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- ⅓ cup shallots, chopped
- ¼ cup celery, chopped
- ½ teaspoon poultry seasoning
- 1 tablespoon fresh sage, chopped
- ¼ cup dried cranberries, chopped
- ¼ cup walnuts, chopped
Cornish Game Hens
- 2 Cornish game hens
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
- kosher salt
- freshly ground black pepper
Wild Rice Stuffing
- In a medium skillet, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the shallot and celery, and cook until softened, about 5 minutes.
- Stir in the poultry seasoning, sage, salt, and pepper. Cook for an additional minute.
- Add the cooked wild rice, cranberries, and walnuts to the skillet and stir to combine.
Cornish Game Hens
- Spoon ½ cup of stuffing into the cavity of each hen, packing it loosely. Close the cavity by tying the hens legs together with kitchen twine.
- Place them on a wire rack-lined baking pan breast side up. Pat the game hens dry with paper towels then brush the tops of the hens with the room temperature butter. Season with salt and pepper.
- Roast for 20 minutes at 425℉ then reduce oven temperature to 350℉ and roast for an additional 30-40 or until they are cooked through to an internal temperature of 180℉ in the thickest part of the thigh and 165℉ for the stuffing.
- Allow the hens rest for 10 minutes before carving and serving.