Cornish hens are the elegant cousin of the regular chicken, yet are as simple to prepare. Their small size makes them cook considerably faster than regular chicken, and splitting them only enhances this quick baking time. Splitting, or butterflying, involves cutting a Cornish hen between the breast bone, essentially flattening it. Glaze or rub the hens with a spice rub before cooking to enhance their delicate texture and moist flavor. The overall cook time should take about 1 hour in an oven set to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
Prepare the Cornish hens by removing any giblets from the cavity, washing the bird under cold, running water and cutting down the breastbone to flatten the chicken. The bird can also be split in half completely, allowing it to be cooked for the same amount of time as the butterflied cut. Remove any large bones, if desired; however, the bones add to the overall flavor of the chicken and are easier to remove once cooked.
Insert the birds into the oven, covered with tinfoil to keep them moist. Remove the tinfoil about 10 minutes before the hens are done to enable the skin to brown. Check that the Cornish hens are done by inserting a meat thermometer into inner thigh, near the breast. Do not touch the bones as this can throw off the reading and make it appear cooked when it is not. The temperature should read at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit when cooked. Remove the birds and tent with tinfoil, letting them rest for about 10 minutes, allowing the moisture to redistribute throughout the meat, making it more tender.
Keep a close eye on the hens as they bake as they cook faster than regular chickens and can become dry and tough quickly. Roast the birds with additional vegetables placed around them for added flavor during the cooking process. The vegetables will make an easy side dish. Marinate the hens for 4 hours to 24 hours before baking to ensure extra flavor throughout the meat.
The Cornish hens can also be pan-fried or barbecued. Coat a deep-bottomed skillet with oil and set it on medium-high heat. Cook the split hens on both sides for 10 to 15 minutes or until cooked through and a dark-brown color. Alternatively, heat a barbecue to medium heat and lightly oil the prepared hens. Set them on the cooking grate and grill the birds for 45 to 60 minutes on indirect heat or until the meat thermometer reads 165 degrees F and the hens are browned.
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