How to Deep-Fry Cornish Hens

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Despite its name, the Cornish game hen is not hunted for sport.
Image Credit: Mallivan/iStock/Getty Images

Start to finish: 3.5 hours Servings: 2 Difficulty level: Intermediate


The deep-frying method will cook your hens quickly, making the outer skin crispy while preserving the tender white meat inside. The robust flavor that results pairs particularly well with root vegetables like turnips, onions and sweet potatoes. This recipe was adapted from similar ones on CDKitchen and From Calculus to Cupcakes.

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  • 2 Cornish game hens, 1.5 pounds each
  • 1/4 cup of kosher salt
  • Fresh ground black pepper
  • Additional herbs and spices (optional)
  • 1 gallon of peanut or canola oil


If frozen, let the hens thaw in the refrigerator overnight.


Pour 4 cups of water into a cooking pot and bring to a boil. Then stir in the kosher salt to create a brine. Remove the brine from the heat and allow it to cool.

Place the hens in the brine, ensuring they are completely submerged. Add more water if necessary. Place the pot with the hens and brine in the refrigerator for 2 hours.


Remove the hens from the brine and thoroughly pat them dry with a towel. Let them sit at room temperature for an hour.

Coat the hens with black pepper from top to bottom.

In a second cooking pot, add 1 gallon of peanut or canola oil, then place over a flame and heat to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. To test whether the oil is hot enough, drop a popcorn kernel into the pot; if it pops, the oil has reached 350.


Place 1 hen in the pot using tongs and cook for about 10 minutes. Then remove the hen from the hot oil and place a meat thermometer inside the deepest part, being careful not to touch the bone. The inside is fully cooked when the thermometer reads 180 F.

Drain the excess oil, then wrap the hen in aluminum foil, and place it inside the oven at 200 F to keep it warm while repeating the frying process with the second hen.


Let the second hen rest about 5 minutes after it has cooked.


Seasoning and Serving Suggestions

Add to the brine a tablespoon of oregano, which offsets the salt and infuses the meat with a slightly bitter-sweet taste.


Coating the skin with garlic powder and mustard prior to frying imparts a pungent, spicy flavor that complements black pepper well.

Serve the hens whole or cleave them in half lengthwise. Lay them over a bed of steamed carrots and red onions drenched in butter, or rice pilaf with lemon juice and dill.


Add a side of green vegetables like asparagus, green beans or Brussels sprouts to complete the meal.

Tips and Warnings

Make sure your cooking pot is no more than half full of oil to allow for the rapid, unavoidable boil-up that occurs after the hens are added. To reduce boil-up, turn off the flame under the fryer before adding the hens, and then turn it back on after.

Shortening is an adequate substitute for oil. It must be melted first over a high flame, and then heated to 375 F before the hens can be added.

Never add oil to a pot while the burner under it is lit. Misuse of a deep fryer is one of the leading causes of kitchen fires. Also, do not add a wet hen to a pot of burning oil, as water and hot oil do not mix well. Always use thick gloves and have a fire extinguisher on hand when cooking with a deep fryer.


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