Succulent, tender roasted Cornish hen recipe with a Mediterranean garlic and spice marinade that makes all the difference! This no-fuss recipe is great for a special gathering: Give each person their own, or split the Cornish hens in half to feed a crowd!
Who doesn’t love their own personal whole roasted chicken?! That’s the beauty of the lesser-known and under-appreciated Cornish hen.
Cornish hens may not be your first choice for a weeknight meal or even a holiday meal, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t consider it! As a bonus, with my tasty Mediterranean garlic spice rub. It's the same rub I use in my now famous Leg of Lamb! Made with loads of fresh garlic, warm spices, and a splash of bright lime juice,, this roasted Cornish game hen recipe makes a very special meal without breaking the bank!
What is a Cornish hen?
A Cornish hen (also known as Rock hen or Cornish game hen) is basically a smaller breed of chicken (usually around one or two pounds in weight). Because they are younger, Cornish game hens are also more tender than their larger chicken cousins. They also have fewer calories than your average chicken.
The flavor difference between chickens and Cornish hens is almost negligible: Cornish hens have a slightly milder flavor, but they basically taste like the chicken you're used to eating.
Because of their small size, Cornish hens are perfect as a serving for one person or split in half when served with some delicious sides. I love pairing this easy roasted Cornish hen recipe with my Cinnamon Roasted Sweet Potatoes; Italian Oven Roasted Vegetables; or Brussels sprouts...Lots more ideas below!
Ingredients you need to make it
- Celery sticks and a large onion, roughly chopped - these get stuffed into the Cornish hen cavity to infuse it with flavor from the inside
- Fresh lemon or lime juice - to squeeze onto the Cornish hens. Don't discard the lemon or lime halves: These get stuffed in the cavity along with the celery and onion
- 4 Cornish hens (roughly 1 pound to 1.5 pound each) - try to use Cornish hens of a similar size so they cook at the same speed
- Chicken broth - this provides flavor and moisture for juicy roasted Cornish hens
- Mediterranean garlic and spice marinade (see just below)
For the Cornish hen marinade!
I found the unexpected perfect match for a Cornish hen: this garlicky, warm Mediterranean garlic and spice marinade! The chicken gets bathed in this marinade for only a few minutes before you cook it, and it is delicious! Here is what you need for this marinade:
- Hot or sweet paprika - gives a depth of flavor and beautiful color to the Cornish game hens
- Ground allspice - adds complex warmth and heartiness
- Dried thyme - brings some earthiness
- Ground black pepper - adds warmth and a slight kick
- Nutmeg - the silent star in this rub, giving it an extra layer of warmth without being overpowering
- Fresh lemon or lime juice - brings a bright pop of brightness and amplifies the intensity of the other flavors. Lime/lemon juice acts also as a tenderizer to the Cornish hen, helping it to be fall-off-the-bone tender once roasted
- Good extra virgin olive oil - I used our Private Reserve Greek extra virgin olive oil
How to cook Cornish hens
- Make the marinade. Place the garlic, spices, lemon juice and olive oil in the bowl of a large food processor fitted with a blade. Blend until you reach a nice "pasty" consistency.
- Apply the marinade to chicken. Generously apply the marinade to each of the Cornish hens (and remember, for best results, to apply under skin and in cavities).
- Brown the hens on all sides. I like to use a cast iron pan for the perfect skin.
- Stuff the cavity with onions and celery. Allow the Cornish hens to cool briefly so you're able to handle them, then add the chopped onions and celery into each cavity.
- Arrange the hens in a cast iron skillet or baking dish. Add 2 cups broth from the sides of the skillet. Roast in a 425 degrees F heated oven for 1 hour (or until the hens are cooked through and juices run clean), basting every 15 minutes with the broth. If you have a cooking thermometer, cooked Cornish hens will have an internal temperature of 165 degrees F.
- Allow the Cornish game hens to rest before serving. When they are ready, remove the hens from the oven and cover loosely with aluminum foil for 15 minutes. Don't skip this step, as resting helps the juices redistribute in the meat, which will result in succulent meat. Transfer to a platter and serve.
Tips for the best Cornish hen in the oven
To make the juiciest, most tender Cornish hen in the oven, follow simple my tips below!
- Be generous with the marinade. Be sure to get the marinade particularly under the skin for best flavor. And don't skimp on the garlic! 15 to 20 cloves of garlic might seem like a lot, but it infuses the Cornish game hens with so much flavor!
- Sear before roasting. Browning the hens on the stovetop before you roast them helps give them color, as well as perfectly crispy skin.
- Do not over cook them. Like chicken, Cornish game hens can be consumed when their internal temperature is 165 degrees F, but remember that they will continue to cook as they rest after you take them out of the oven, so take that in consideration and pull them out a little bit earlier.
- Allow the hens to rest before serving. Again, just like chicken, roasted hen should rest for a few minutes before serving for best flavor and to allow the juices to redistribute. Basting them with their broth as they rest will help.
What to serve along
Cornish game hens served whole along with some sides make a beautiful plate when you have guests over. If you're feeding a larger crowd and have an abundance of sides, halve the Cornish hens.
Serve with sides like Italian roasted veggies, cinnamon roasted sweet potatoes, simple roasted carrots, or even Lebanese hashweh rice. For a complementary salad, try roasted beet and kale salad or this bright fattoush salad.
Make ahead tips
If you want to save time, a lot of the heavy lifting for this Cornish game hen recipe can be done a day in advance:
- Chop the vegetables a night in advance and store them separately in airtight containers in the fridge.
- Prepare the garlic spice rub and apply it to the game hens the night before you plan on roasting them.
Leftovers and storage
Allow the baked Cornish hen leftovers to come to room temperature. Store in airtight containers in the fridge for up to 3 days.
More poultry recipes to try:
Browse our top Mediterranean diet recipes. Or all Mediterranean recipes.
Cornish Hen Recipe with a Mediterranean Garlic and Spice Marinade
- 2 celery sticks, cleaned and chopped in large pieces
- 1 large sweet onion, roughly chopped
- 1 lime or lemon, juice of
- 4 Cornish hens, roughly 1 pound to 1.5 pounds each
- 2 cup chicken broth
For the Garlic and Spice Marinade
- 15-20 garlic cloves
- 2 ½ teaspoon hot or sweet paprika
- 1 ½ teaspoon ground allspice
- 1 ½ teaspoon dried thyme
- 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
- ½ teaspoon nutmeg
- 1 lemon or lime, juice of
- 2 tablespoon Private Reserve Greek extra virgin olive oil
- Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.
- Make the Mediterranean garlic and spice marinade. Combine the garlic spice rub ingredients in food processor. Run the processor until you achieve a pasty spice mixture or rub.
- Now to each of the hens, apply the marinade generously on the outside and in the cavities. Lift the skins and apply some of the marinade underneath (this is the key to flavor).
- Heat a lightly-oiled cast iron grill or skillet. Turn the the heat to medium-high and brown each of the hens on all sides. Set the hens aside momentarily to cool.
- Once the hens are cool enough to handle, stuff each hen's cavity with the chopped onions and celery. Now squeeze juice of one lime or lemon on the hens. Add all the used lime or lemon halves in with the onion and celery stuffing. Sprinkle each hen lightly with a dash of seasoned salt, if you like.
- Place the hens in a large cast iron skillet or a roasting pan. Add two cups of good chicken broth from the side of the skillet.
- Bake in the 425 degrees F heated-oven for 1 hour to 1 hour and 15 minutes or until the hen juices run clean, basting every 15 minutes with the broth. Remove from the oven and cover loosely with foil for 15 minutes before serving.
- This recipe will serve 8 people (each having ½ of a hen).
- Make ahead tips: Chop the vegetables a day in advance and store them separately in the fridge. You can also prepare the rub and apply it to the hens the night before you plan to roast them, and store the hens in the fridge in airtight containers.
- Leftovers and storage: Once the Cornish hens have returned to room temperature, store them in airtight containers in the fridge for up to 3 days.
- What to Serve Along: Serve with sides like Italian roasted veggies, cinnamon roasted sweet potatoes, Greek potatoes, or even Lebanese hashweh rice. I love to start with a big bowl of fattoush salad.
- Visit our online shop to browse quality extra virgin olive oils and all-natural and organic spices and more!
*This post first appeared on The Mediterranean Dish in December of 2015 and has recently been updated with new information and media for readers' benefit. Enjoy!
Do you roast hens once in oven, breast side up or down, or flip half way through?
Going to make this recipe very soon! 🤗
Hi, Teresa. They are cooked breast side up here. Enjoy!
This Cornish hen recipe is wonderful using a spice blend I never would have thought to put together. My wife & I added some root vegetables to the bottom of the Dutch oven & finished it uncovered. It is quick & easy & worth making, even as we did, sharing one hen with delicious sides. Don’t be shy with the lemon juice & maybe serve some wedges on the side.
Thank you Suzy
So glad you enjoyed it, Jim!
I really did enjoy this recipe! I added vegetables to my skillet (carrots, brussels, potatoes) and for the marinade, I added a couple of tablespoons of teryiaki sauce. It came out flavorful and moist and just as the recipe indicated. Truly easy and quick!
Awesome! Thanks so much!
Wonderful flavors! I cut the recipe in half (only had 2 hens) and used 6 garlic cloves. I also substituted half of the broth with chardonnay. After the hens were cooked to 160 degrees, I strained and slightly thickened the broth to make gravy. The meal was awesome!
Sounds absolutely delish!
This was absolutely delicious. Inhad 2 hens in my freezer and didn’t know what to do with them. Yum! I used smoked sweet Spanish paprika, and added half the whole lemon to the spice purée. Added more lemons to pan with birds and stocks thank you!
Do you roast with a lid or not?
Hi, Alice. No lid needed here. Enjoy!
Would this recipe be suitable for a whole chicken? Thank you.
Hi, Lise. Yes, I think this could totally work with a whole chicken. You can use the marinade recipe here, and then check out our Spatchcock Chicken recipe as a cooking guide.
These wings look absolutely amazing. I love the teriyaki flavour but don’t have it too often – I am definitely going to be making these
This was delicious! My teens loved having their own, individual little chickens to eat, lol.
Delicious! That spice rub is magical. I'm definitely making this for my holiday gathering this year!
Yay! Happy holidays!
Excellent recipe and I might add a keeper on this cold rainy night. I even Spatchcocked the Cornish hen. The hens from Costco if anyone has a chance to get are huge and always tender. I roasted a few potatoes, mini bells, red onion and a eggplant. Served with drizzled sauce on the vegetables. That’s what I call comfort food! Thank you for recipe!
Can I grill these? It’s too hot to turn on the oven.
Hi, Nansi. I've never tried that personally, but I think it would work. We have a Whole Grilled Chicken Recipe you could use as a guide.
Suzy, I’m thinking of making this recipe for Mother’s Day. If I hopscotch game hens, how do I put onion mixture inside?
Hi, Anna! Did you mean "spatchcock" (not "hopscotch")? If so, the idea of spatchcocking is to cook it flat, so you won't be able to stuff the hens. Instead, you can add the stuffing ingredients as a bed for the chicken.
Thank you Suzy,
Can they be prepped and rubbed with garlic rub the night before?
Or is it better to do it right before backing?
Hi, Anna. I've never tried that personally, but I feel like it would work. Just keep them tightly covered in the fridge.
Waaaaayyyy too much garlic!!!! Not a single member of my family was able to even eat the bird!!! I recommend 1/4 of the amount listed as it was so garlicky that we secreted the smell for days!
Well that was unnecessary. Just because you don't enjoy garlic does not mean the recipe is bad. Adjust it to your own tastes. Learn to be versatile in the kitchen, make it taste how you want it to.