Have you ever seen those tiny birds in the poultry display area and wondered what a Cornish game hen actually is? I used to think they were little wild chickens that roamed the countryside of Cornwall in England.
I imagined ladies and gentlemen dressed in fine hunting clothes with rifles nestled into the bends of their arms walking through the brush looking to snag a fine meal. I envisioned that the birds were cleaned, roasted whole, and served with roasted root vegetables and savory bread pudding. The skin was browned and crispy and the flesh was dark and juicy. I think I read too many novels about the British gentry in the late 1800s. In fact, I did read a lot and had a very romantic vision of game birds and the thrill of the hunt.
While most of this was my own fiction, some things are true. Cornish refers to a specific breed of chicken. Calling it a “game hen” though is a misnomer. Cornish hens are generally farm raised birds and not hunted in the Cornish countryside. In fact, they were made popular by farmers in the 1950s in Connecticut. The farmers bred Cornish with Rock chickens and called these birds Rock Cornish Game Hens. These are basically very young chickens that have not matured.
To be sure, Cornish hens are delicious. The meat is more white than dark. The skin does crisp up, especially when air-fried. And, the meat is very juicy. Savory bread pudding is actually a popular side dish with roasted poultry.
Cornish hens are only about 1-1/2 to 2 pounds. One is perfect for 2 people to share. They don’t take very long to cook. Some people like to stuff the hens with cooked and seasoned rice. I prefer to stuff the tiny cavity with fruit and aromatics that add structure and impart plenty of flavor. Once you cook a whole Cornish game hen in an air fryer you might not go back to your oven or grill.
Roasted Cornish Game Hen in an Air Fryer (Paleo, Keto, Gluten Free)
- 1 (1-3/4 pound) whole Cornish game hen
- 1 TBS extra virgin olive oil
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1/2 tsp dried thyme leaves
- 1/2 tsp ground sage
- 1/2 tsp sea salt
- 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
- 1 mandarin orange, quartered
- 1 shallot, cut in half
- 1/4 of one crisp apple, cut in half
Total time:40 min – Prep time:10 min – Cook time:30 min – Serves:2 people
1. Remove the giblets from the cavity of the hen and save for making broth. Rinse the hen under cold running water and pat dry with paper towels. Place the bird on a plate to rest. Give your sink and hands a good cleaning with hot soapy water.
2. In a small bowl, mix together the oil, garlic, thyme, sage, salt, and pepper. Rub the hen, inside and out, with the oil and herb mixture. Fill the cavity with as much citrus, shallots, and apple pieces as will fit.
3. Preheat your air fryer to 375°F for 3 minutes. Set the timer for 40 minutes.
4. Place the Cornish hen, breast side down, in the air fryer basket or on the crisper plate. Roast for 15 minutes. Turn the bird over and continue to cook for an additional 15 minutes, or until the internal temperature reaches 170°F when checked with a digital meat thermometer.
5. Remove the hen to a clean cutting board. Loosely tent with foil and allow to rest for 5 to 10 minutes before carving.
6. When the chicken has rested, remove the fruits and aromatics from the cavity. Discard these. Carve the bird as you would a whole chicken, separating the wings, drumsticks, thighs, and breasts into portions. Place the pieces of hen on a serving platter.
7. Serve the roasted head with a savory bread pudding. The recipe follows.
Cheesy Savory Bread Pudding with Kale and Mushrooms
- 1 bunch fresh kale, stems and thick cores removed, washed, drained, and chopped well
- 1-1/2 TBS walnut or olive oil
- 1-1/2 TBS unsalted butter
- 1/2 pound (8 ounces) cremini mushrooms, sliced
- 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
- 1 tsp fresh coarsely chopped thyme leaves
- 1-1/4 tsps sea salt
- 1-1/4 tsps freshly ground pepper
- Butter for greasing a baking dish
- 1/2 pound (5 to 6 cups cubed) stale sourdough, whole grain, or gluten free bread, sliced into 1 inch cubes
- 1/3 cup chopped pecans
- 4 whole eggs
- 2 cups milk
- 1/2 cup (2 ounces) grated Gruyère cheese
- 1/4 cup (1 ounce) grated Pecorino-Romano cheese
Total time: 1 hour 5 min – Prep time: 20 min – Cook time: 45 min – Serves: 4 to 6 people
1. In a large sauce pot over medium-high heat, bring 2 quarts of water to a boil. Dunk the kale in the water and blanch for 2 minutes. Transfer the kale to a colander and rinse under very cold water to stop the cooking. Set the kale aside to drain.
2. In a large heavy skillet over medium-high heat, warm the oil and butter until it melts. Add the mushrooms and cook just until they begin to brown and soften, stirring often. Stir in the garlic and thyme. Cook until the garlic is fragrant, approximately 1 minute.
3. Add the kale, sat, and pepper. Toss to combine and turn off the heat.
4. Grease a 2 quart baking dish with butter.
5. Place the bread cubes, mushrooms and kale, and pecans in the baking dish and toss to combine well. In a large bowl, whisk the eggs and milk together. Stir the 2 cheeses into the milk and eggs. Pour this mixture over the bread and vegetables. Stir gently to make sure everything is drenched in milk and cheese. Set this aside for 5 minutes for the milk to soak into the bread.
6. Preheat your oven to 350°F.
7. Place the pudding into the oven and bake for approximately 45 minutes until the dish puffs up like a souffle and has a crispy brown topping.
8. Allow the dish to cool slightly. Using a large serving spoon, dish out helpings to accompany your air fryer roasted Cornish game hen.
Making Bone Broth
Don’t let that small hen carcass and the giblets go to waste. These can be used to make an excellent and healing broth for a soup base. I always save the rib cage, back bone, wings tips, and giblets for this purpose.
Place all in a soup pot with a diced carrot, a diced celery stalk, and a bay leaf. Cover this completely with water. Add 2 teaspoons of unfiltered apple cider vinegar to help draw the minerals from the bones. Bring this pot to a boil over high heat. Turn the heat down to a low simmer and cover the pot. Allow the broth to simmer for at least 1 hour and up to 8 hours. You can also make bone broth in a slow cooker overnight.
After the broth cools, use it to make soup or place it in individual serving containers in your freezer to be used for a quick and healthy weeknight stew or soup. The broth will keep for up to 4 months in your freezer.