You guys! Want to do a scaled down holiday celebration this year?
Or just change up the regular Thanksgiving menu for something a little snazzier?
Try serving roasted cornish game hens.
They have all the fancy of a holiday feast—without the fuss of giant bird.
The best part?
They cook fast (relative to a large turkey), and everyone gets their own bird.
(As my dear friend The Wiley Raccoon put it, there’s no fighting over light or dark meat. Each guest gets both. Ideal, right?)
These little guys are elegant, and fragrant with all our favorite Fall flavors, including cinnamon, clove, and nutmeg. A generous splash of spiced rum and hunks of tart green apple round out the seasonings.
Here’s a quick rundown of what you’re doing
Once you spice and truss the birds, here’s how you’re going to roast them:
- 400 degrees breast side down for 25 minutes.
- 400 degrees breast side up for 20 minutes.
- 450 degrees for 10 minutes to finish and crisp the skin.
Scale this recipe up or down
This recipe can easily serve as many holiday revelers as you can fit around your table.
Dress up your plates
We served each of these babies on a bed of saffron rice with bacon roasted Brussels sprouts.
Stay tuned for that recipe tomorrow!
Where do you get a cornish game hen?
Any fancier grocery store (like a Whole Foods) will most likely have them on hand, and almost any regular grocery store or other butcher should be able to order them for you (or have them hidden in back behind the butcher counter). Here are ours:
Holiday Cornish Game Hens
4 cornish game hens, about 1.5 lbs. each
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/8 tsp. ground clove
1/8 tsp. nutmeg
1/4 tsp. onion powder
1/4 tsp. garlic powder
1/4 tsp. garlic salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1 tsp. dried parsley
12 whole cloves
4 whole garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
1 large green apple, quartered
Do a little prep
Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.
Line a sheet pan with foil, set a rack on top, and set aside.
Wash your birds, pat them dry, drizzle each bird with a little olive oil, then sprinkle the inside of the cavity and outside of each bird with a little kosher salt.
Season your birds
Toss 3 whole cloves and one peeled clove of garlic in the cavity of each bird.
Season the inside with garlic powder, onion powder, black pepper, cinnamon, ground clove, and nutmeg.
Pop a piece of apple in the cavity.
Pour about 2 Tablespoons of spiced rum in the cavity.
Truss each bird up.
(You don’t have to get fancy here, just jack the legs up, and tie them together so they stay crossed.)
Fold the wings under like this:
Sprinkle with a little more ground clove, cinnamon, black pepper, garlic salt, and parsley.
Flip them over, so that they’re breast-side down.
This will help keep them juicy as they roast.
Put a little rum in the pan, along with a little water.
Roast breast-side down for 25 minutes
Pop them into your preheated, 400-degree F oven.
Roast for 25 minutes breast-side down.
After 25 minutes, yank the pan out of the oven and flip the birds over so that they’re breast-side up.
Roast breast-side up for 20 minutes
Slide the pan back into the oven and roast the birds breast-side up for 20 minutes at 400 degrees F.
Jack the heat to 450 and crisp for 10 minutes
After about 20 minutes, jack the heat up to 450-degrees F, and roast the birds breast-side up for about 10 minutes, until the skin is nicely browned and crisped, and the meat is cooked through.
You’re aiming for an internal temperature of about 160 degrees F.
When they’re done, yank the pan from the oven, and tent the birds loosely with foil for about 10 minutes to let the juices settle back into the meat.
Serve, inhale, enjoy!
After the birds have rested, plate them up.
Like I said, we served them with saffron rice and bacon-roasted Brussels sprouts (hello, yum!).
These little guys are great because they’re smashing presented on individual plates—or lined up on a big serving platter, if you’re doing more family style.
Need other ideas for holiday side dishes?
Check these out.
Definitely still want to make a bigger bird?
We’ve got you covered. Here are a few alternatives to traditional roasted turkey.