A true Cornish Game Hen is a young female Cornish chicken about 5 weeks of age, weighing around 2 pounds. These hens are a large-breasted breed of English birds. No longer raised for commercial purposes, true Cornish chickens are raised by backyard enthusiasts and small specialty farms. These are poor egg-layers, bred strictly for their meat. True Cornish chickens are slow to mature, making them undesirable for commercial farms. So what are we buying?
The hens sold in the markets today are actually a cross between a Cornish and a Plymouth Rock chicken. They are rapid growers, with less feed costs to reach maturity. Due to their rapid growth, Rock Cornish hens are prone to health problems such as heart attacks and skeletal deformities. Sad but true. The birds sold in the grocery stores weight between 2 to 5 pounds. They may or may not be a hen, as young males are also sold as Rock Cornish Game hens. Game Hens are attractive on the table, lending an air of grace and sophistication. I love game hens for special Sunday suppers or whenever I feel the need to give a little “fancy” to the table without necessarily doing a ton of extra work.
Growing up, Sundays and some sort of chicken dish just naturally go hand in hand. In the summer it was often fried chicken served outdoors with fresh corn from the garden and a big slice of watermelon. In the fall, roast chicken seemed to fill that Sunday Chicken need. The only chicken I knew growing up were big, fat birds that looked more like small turkeys. Big was always better. Sunday dinner wasn’t just Mom, Dad and their four offspring. It was our cousins who lived around the corner, an Aunt and her son from down the street, and extended good friends who sometimes wandered by after mass. Even after I moved out on my own, coming home for Sunday dinner was expected. It wasn’t until Hubby and I moved to another state that we began having our own Sunday traditions. It wasn’t until then that I discovered the special beauty of Rock Cornish Hens. While we don’t do fancy Sunday dinners every week, I like to make it a point to do a little something special one Sunday a month. This is one of my favorites.
Game Hens with Garlic and Rosemary
2 Game hens,1 1/2 lbs each, giblets removed
1/2 lemon, cut into 2 wedges
2 large fresh rosemary sprigs
3 tablespoons olive oil
12 garlic cloves, peeled
1/4 cup dry white wine
1/4 cup canned low-salt chicken broth
Additional rosemary sprigs
Heat oven to 450 degrees. Rinse hens under cold water. Pat hens dry with paper towels.
Season cavities lightly with salt and pepper. Place 1 lemon wedge and 1 rosemary sprig in the cavity of each hen. Rub hens with 1 tablespoon oil. Season outside of hens lightly with salt and pepper. Arrange in heavy large roasting pan. Scatter garlic around hens.
Roast hens 25 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees. Pour wine, broth and remaining 2 tablespoons oil over hens. Continue roasting until hens are golden brown and juices run clear when thigh is pierced at thickest part, basting every 10 minutes with pan juices, about 25 minutes longer.
Transfer hens to platter, pouring any juices from cavity into roasting pan. Tent hens with foil to keep warm. Transfer pan juices and garlic to heavy medium saucepan. Boil until reduced to sauce consistency, about 6 minutes.
To serve, split each hen in half lengthwise. Arrange on a dinner plate with a wedge of lemon. Spoon sauce and garlic around hens. Garnish with additional rosemary sprigs and serve.