Chicken has been one of the most popular proteins in America since World War II, but Cornish hen is a little less well-known. As a versatile and crowd-pleasing ingredient, Cornish hen has much of the same appeal as a standard chicken. Becoming familiar with the Cornish hen opens up endless possibilities for creative meals.
Most chicken sold in grocery stores is about 2 to 5 months old and weighs between 3 and 7 pounds. If the chicken is on the lower end of these ranges it is classified as a “broiler-fryer” chicken, while a larger, more mature chicken is classified as a “roaster.” Other classifications are “stewing chicken,” which refers to a chicken that is 10 to 18 months of age, and “capon,” which is a castrated rooster less than 10 months old.
Cornish hen -- also called Rock Cornish hen or Cornish game hen -- is a type of chicken. The breed is a cross between White Rock and Cornish chickens. Typically, the Cornish hen is sold when it is 4 to 6 weeks old and weighs between 1 and 2 pounds. Sometimes it is referred to as “poussin,” which is a French term that describes a young chicken weighing less than 1.5 pounds, regardless of breed.
Tastes Like Chicken
Chicken is generally prized for its mild flavor and tender meat, making it suitable for a wide variety of preparations. As a chicken matures, the meat will gradually toughen and develop a more assertive flavor. Accordingly, a very young chicken like the Cornish hen will have a light flavor and tender flesh.
Cornish hen may be cooked in many of the same ways as a standard size whole chicken, including grilling, frying and roasting. It is often stuffed or marinated to enhance the mild flavor. In contrast to a standard chicken, Cornish hen is not suitable for boneless meat preparations because of its small size and relatively small amount of flesh. All types of chicken should be cooked to an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit.
Count Your Chickens
While a standard chicken feeds four to six people, a Cornish hen usually yields just one serving per person. Presenting each diner with an entire Cornish hen can add a sense of luxury to a meal even if the recipe is simple. However, Cornish hen does not always need to be cooked and presented intact. It may also be separated into halves or quarters in the same manner as a standard chicken.
- The Deluxe Food Lover's Companion; Sharon Tyler Herbst and Ron Herbst
- Larousse Gastronomique: The World's Greatest Culinary Encyclopedia; Librairie Larousse
- USDA: Chicken From Farm to Table
- Photo Credit Jupiterimages/liquidlibrary/Getty Images