How to Pan Braise Cornish Hens


Cornish hens make a nice alternative to standard chicken and turkey dishes. The small birds are suited to braising, a wet cooking method that imparts flavor and keeps meat juicy and tender. It's easy to dry poultry out with overcooking, but it's less of a concern with braising than with baking, sauteing or other dry-heat methods. While it's best to braise in a Dutch oven or casserole dish that can go on the stove and in the oven, you can braise in a pan that has a lid, either just on a burner or split between the stove and oven if you have an oven-safe pan.

Things You'll Need

  • Paper towels
  • Knife
  • Salt and pepper
  • Herbs and spices
  • Pan with lid
  • Cooking oil
  • Vegetables
  • Braising liquid
  • Rubber spatula
  • Meat thermometer
  • Preheat your oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit if you're braising the Cornish hens in an oven-safe pan. If you don't have one, skip the oven, as you'll fully braise on a burner.

  • Rinse the Cornish hens in the sink and pat them dry with paper towels. Be thorough, as water impedes browning. Cut the birds in half with a sharp knife, then sprinkle them with salt and pepper. Cover all the surface area. Add any other herbs and spices you want to use.

  • Preheat a large, deep, heavy-bottom skillet over medium high heat for about two minutes. Opt for one you can put in the oven if possible. Use one that has a tight-fitting lid. Add a little cooking oil to coat the pan and give it about a minute to heat.

  • Turn the heat down to medium and lay the Cornish hen halves in the pan. Sear until the bottoms brown nicely, which should take about two minutes. Turn them to brown all the other sides, too.

  • Remove the birds and saute some vegetables of your choosing. A mirepoix -- finely chopped carrots, celery and onion -- is a good choice, but you can add and subtract at will. Cook just until the onions start to brown and the veggies become soft.

  • Add your braising liquid to the pan to deglaze it; you want enough to come to about halfway up the hen halves when they go back in the pan, but not so much that they'll be immersed. Use a chicken or vegetable stock, red or white wine, beer, cider vinegar or something else specified in a recipe you're following. To deglaze, scrape up the stuff that got stuck to the bottom of the pan when you seared the Cornish hens with a rubber spatula and stir it into the braising liquid.

  • Return the Cornish hen to the pan and place the lid on securely. If it's an oven-safe pan, put it into the center of the oven; if not, keep the burner heat at medium and leave the pan in place.

  • Braise the birds for about 25 minutes, until the meat reaches and internal temperature of 165 F. Check the center of the breast meat and thigh meat with a meat thermometer. If you're braising on the stove top, turn the hens about halfway through the cooking time to prevent burning them.

Tips & Warnings

  • Each Cornish hen serves one person.

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