Turkey is the traditional main course for the big dinner, but if you’re just not a big turkey fan or would like to try something different this year, Cornish hens are the perfect alternative. They cook quickly and are stunning on a dinner plate. Instead of simply having a piece or two of turkey, everyone has their own hen. So give the turkey a reprieve this year and surprise your family and friends with these little birds that pack big flavor.
Although they may seem intimidating, roasting these little hens couldn’t be easier. In this recipe, an herbed compound butter is made ahead of time and then slipped under the skin of the bird before searing the underside and roasting. The wonderful herb butter helps create the most delicious pan juices that can be used to make gravy.
If you would rather use fresh herbs instead of dried, use 3 times more than the recipe says. Dried herbs are more concentrated then fresh, so less of the dried variety is needed. However, either will work very well in this recipe.
Reasor’s sells Cornish hens in the same place as the turkeys.
Roasted Cornish Hens with Herb Butter
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
- 2 teaspoons crumbled dried sage
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme
- 1 teaspoon dried parsley flakes
- 2 teaspoons freshly grated lemon zest
- 4 1 1/2-pound Cornish hens, rinsed and patted dry
- Salt and pepper
Make the compound butter: In a small bowl, blend together ¼ cup of the butter with the sage, thyme, parsley and the zest. Scrape the herb butter onto a piece of waxed paper and roll into a cylinder. Twist the ends like a candy wrapper and chill for an hour or so until firm.
Once the butter is firm, cut it into 4 equal pieces. Loosen the skin covering the breast meat on each hen by slipping your fingers under the skin and sliding them between the skin and the meat. Place one slice of the herb butter under the skin of each hen and rubbing the outside of the skin to distribute the butter evenly. Season the hens with salt and pepper. Tie each hen’s legs together with kitchen twine. Chill several hours or overnight.
Preheat oven to 450.
In a large, heavy skillet, heat the remaining butter over moderately high heat until the foam subsides. Sauté the hens, breast sides up, for 1 to 2 minutes, or until the underside is golden brown. Transfer to the oven and roast, basting with pan drippings every 10 minutes, for 30 to 35 minutes, or until a meat thermometer inserted in the thigh registers 180 degrees Fahrenheit. Let the hens rest for 5 minutes and discard the string before serving.
Makes 4 servings