What Is A Cornish Game Hen And What Does It Taste Like?

Imagine if you were served an entire chicken, and then you proceeded to devour the whole bird – breast, thighs, drumsticks, everything – all by yourself. Don't be ashamed, if you nuzzled up to a Cornish game hen, that's the expectation. The USDA defines a Cornish game hen as "an immature chicken younger than five weeks old, of either sex, with a ready-to-cook carcass weight of two pounds or less." Simply put, a Cornish game hen is a chicken that is small enough to be eaten by one person, in one sitting (via Precision Nutrition).

According to legend, the Cornish game hen was first bred by Tea Makowsky in Connecticut in 1949. Seems Makowsky's farm was devastated by fire and in an attempt to ramp up her flock, she tried cross-breeding chickens, namely the popular Cornish chicken with the White Plymouth Rock hen, to create a bird that would mature exceedingly fast. Not only were her chickens ready for slaughter in less than five weeks, but the birds also grew plump, meaty breasts and delivered the perfect amount of food for one person (via Modern Farmer). Some of the finest restaurants in New York took note of Makowsky's "Rock Cornish game hens" and the single-serve birds became quite fashionable in the 1950s (via Seattle Times). These days, you can find Cornish game hens online and in the fresh and frozen foods section of most grocery stores and large retailers. 

Do Cornish game hens taste like chicken?

According to Market House, some claim the flavor of Cornish hens is less assertive than that of chicken, but since Cornish hens are butchered younger, their meat is more tender. In addition, Cornish game hens are largely white meat, so don't have as much fat or calories as chicken (via Love Kitchen Today). The Spruce Eats adds that because of its young age, the Cornish hen delivers a unique flavor that larger chickens simply don't possess, and the bird can be substituted for any recipe calling for chicken (cooking time will be shorter thanks to the hen's smaller size).

For recipe inspiration, Spend with Pennies shares an easy (and customizable) recipe for Cornish game hens that are roasted with rosemary, thyme, lemon, and garlic. The birds boast crispy skin and buttery meat and are served alongside aromatic carrots, potatoes, and onions. Jo Cooks has a similar recipe, but the hens are laced with a dry rub consisting of Italian seasoning, smoked paprika, garlic, and red pepper flakes.

Tyson offers three unique glaze recipes for their Cornish game hens – one with cranberry sauce and slivered almonds, one with apple juice, maple syrup, and mustard, and one with orange juice, balsamic vinegar, brown sugar, and rosemary.

How Stuff Works states that Cornish game hens can cost more than traditional chicken, so take the opportunity to gussy up the rest of your meal with sides like roasted or mashed potatoes, grilled asparagus, colorful vegetables, and creamy risotto.