I always forget about Cornish hens and then when I make them, I can’t believe I let so much time go by without putting these festive little birds on the menu. They’re quick, inexpensive, and versatile — especially when you’re cooking for one or two for Thanksgiving. If you don’t want to go to the trouble of a bunch of side dishes, you can even cook your potatoes and vegetables such as carrots, onions, halved Brussels sprouts, chunks of zucchini, or diced butternut squash right in the pan with them. I include directions for the easy carrots and spinach from the photo in the printable recipe. And even cooler is the simple pan sauce stirred up in the roasting pan while the hens rest and you pour the wine. No Good Gravy! worries. While a one-pan Thanksgiving always sounds nigh unto impossible, you can actually do it if that’s your druthers. That’s an easy clean up, too. On your own this year? I’d still advise cooking two Cornish hens … you want leftovers, right? I mean, the best part of Thanksgiving is the I-don’t-have-to-cook next day sandwich with mayo on white bread. Right after the pumpkin pie for breakfast, that is. Don’t skip the whipped cream.
Check out Perdue Farms’ THE ULTIMATE GUIDE/How to Cook Cornish Hens if you’d like to grill, slow cook, fry, smoke or…your birds.
Before you get started cooking, it’s time to pull out your favorite dishes and glasses so it looks like a holiday. You can do this a day ahead and enjoy looking forward to the meal. (Even just some candles and disposable placemats will make the difference.)
Set the table for one or two just as beautifully as you would for eight. You’re worth it. And so is making a big deal out being grateful. Light the candles. Turn on the music. Plan how you’ll spend the day.
Get your mask on and run up to the wine shop to buy something you really like to drink. Anything you’d choose for turkey will most likely be tasty for Cornish hens. If you need simple advice for one bottle, try an Oregon Pinot Noir for a red or an off-dry (not sweet) Washington state Riesling for a white. Or grab the sales clerk, tell them how much you’d like to spend (don’t be shy), and let them point you to a yummy wine. If you do this prior to Wednesday, you’ll be a happier camper.
Thanksgiving Mocktail: Equal amounts cranberry and orange juices topped off with 7-up or club soda pored over ice and garnished orange or lemon slices. Beautiful in a really big wine glass.
So after the table is set, your wine is chilling (even a Pinot Noir can benefit from 20 minutes in the fridge–whites should get a few hours), and you’ve made any obligatory phone/zoom calls, it’s time to make dinner. You might not believe how simple this is. You can complicate it to your heart’s content (bake a pie, make rolls, stir up/buy cranberry sauce….it’s up to you), but if you follow these basic directions, you’ll soon have Thanksgiving dinner on the table with hardly a care in the world. Well, perhaps that’s going too far given today’s circumstances. I’m not sure you’ll really need it, but I’ll include a printable recipe so you don’t have to go blind reading this off your phone or get your laptop wet while it’s on the counter.
THAWING YOUR LITTLE BIRDS: You’ll need to defrost your hens in the fridge a day or two in advance or in cold water you change every 30 minutes–for about 4 hours.
Elevator version of the Cornish Hens recipe: Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Drizzle and rub in about a tablespoon of oil all over each birds, then salt and pepper 2 them inside and out; add a half lemon to the cavities. Tuck wings under; tie legs together. Sit them in an oiled pan on top of 2 sliced onions, pour in 2 cups chicken broth, and roast til instant read thermometer registers 180 degrees, 70-80 min. (Birds vary in size–could be less/more time.) Rest hens tented with foil on cutting board. Pan sauce/jus: Pour 1 cup white wine into roasting pan with the cooked onions (broth may have cooked away), heat and simmer for a few minutes; add butter, let melt and taste for seasoning. Pour into small bowl or pitcher. If you like, make stuffing (scroll down), put in a greased pan, and add it to the oven about half-way through the roasting time. Make vegetables ahead of time and warm just before serving.
Not baking scratch cornbread? You can buy a mix at the store or there’s baked cornbread available in many bakeries.
cornish hens with cranberry cornbread-brown rice dressing
For the hens:
- Olive oil
- 2 medium yellow onions-peeled and sliced (or other vegetables as desired)
- 2 completely thawed Cornish hens-patted dry with paper towels (thaw 1-2 days in fridge or in cold water, changed every 30 minutes, for 4 hours)
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt and ½ teaspoon fresh ground pepper mixed together
- 1 lemon, scrubbed and cut in half
- 2 cups low sodium chicken broth
For the dressing:
- 8 tablespoons 1/4 pound salted butter
- 1 cup EACH diced yellow onion and celery
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt and ¼ teaspoon fresh ground black pepper – or to taste
- Pinch ground cayenne
- ½ teaspoon EACH rubbed sage and ground thyme – or to taste
- ¼ teaspoon ground fennel- optional
- 3 tablespoons fresh parsley, minced
- 3 cups crumbled baked cornbread
- 2 cups cooked brown rice-can sub white rice, more cornbread or white bread, cubed
- 1/3 cup dried cranberries (can sub raisins)
- 1 egg, beaten
- 3/4 cup low sodium chicken broth or more as needed
For the Pan Sauce (Jus)
- 1 cup dry white wine (can sub broth)
- 1 tablespoon salted butter
- Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper if needed – to taste
- PREP: Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit and arrange rack at center.
- ROAST THE HENS: Drizzle roasting pan with a tablespoon of olive oil and arrange onions in a single layer at the center. Place Cornish hens on the onions and brush them all over with about a tablespoon of oil each. Sprinkle each bird evenly with the mixed salt and pepper inside and out. Add a half lemon to the cavities of the hens. Tuck wings under the bodies and tie the legs together with kitchen twine. Pour the two cups of broth into the roasting pan around the birds. Roast for 70-80 minutes OR until instant read thermometer inserted in the thigh (not touching bone) reads 180 degrees Fahrenheit or until juices run clear if you slice between the breast and thigh. (Cornish hens vary in size, so time is flexible.) Meanwhile, make the dressing and add it to the oven after 30-40 minutes.
- MAKE DRESSING: Butter a 2-quart casserole and set aside. In a large deep skillet or in a 6-quart pot, melt the butter over medium heat and add the onions and celery. Season with the salt, pepper, cayenne, sage, thyme, fennel, if using, and parsley. Stir and cook for 10 minutes or until vegetables are tender. Turn off burner. Add the baked crumbled cornbread and cooked brown rice; mix well. Add the cranberries and stir again. Taste and adjust seasonings. Pour the beaten egg and broth evenly over the cornbread mixture and mix for two minutes or so or until everything is moist but not drippy, adding a little more broth as needed. Bake in the oven with the Cornish hens for 35-45 minutes or until crispy and hot.
- REST HENS, MAKE PAN SAUCE (JUS), AND SERVE HOT: When Cornish hens and dressing are done, remove the hens to a carving board and tent with foil. Cover the casserole with dressing with foil to keep warm. Place the roasting pan on a burner, pour the cup of white wine into the pan with the roasted onions and heat over medium flame. The broth you added earlier to the roasting pan may have cooked away, but its flavor remains. Simmer, stirring up any brown bits, for a few minutes until wine has lost its edge or rawness and then stir in the tablespoon of butter. Let butter melt for a minute, stir the sauce, and taste, adjusting for seasonings as needed. You may not need any salt at all. Carefully pour the sauce into small bowl with a ladle or in a pitcher.
- Add a hen to each plate, spoon dressing to the side, and drizzle with pan sauce (jus).
Changing things up: Add cloves of garlic and/or sprigs of fresh thyme, rosemary, or sage to the cavities of the Cornish hens. Stir in well-cooked sausage, chopped ham, diced crispy bacon, diced apple or pear, or even chopped toasted pecans to the dressing.
MORE INFO THAN YOU WANTED:
How to Cook Cornish Hens — The Ultimate Guide/PERDUE FARMS–Includes a variety of recipes for cooking these birds in different ways including roasting, frying, slow-cooking, grilling, and smoking.
LIFE GOES ON:
“Annie, get your gun!” You may remember last summer we had a new influx of wild turkeys in the neighborhood. I hadn’t seen one in a while, but this hen? was walking along the side of the road the other day as we drove past. I couldn’t get much of a photo, but you get the idea. We don’t keep guns in our house, but there’s the occasional thought!
For American readers, I hope you’re looking forward to giving all the thanks you can…or just thinking about your gratefulness list, which is a supremely healthy thing to do anytime, but maybe especially right now. The feast is a symbolic celebration of bounty and togetherness, and no matter how large or small, is sufficient.
I’m grateful for you as readers and followers,