Stuffed Cornish Hen (Thanksgiving For Two)
Don’t want to roast a whole turkey for Thanksgiving? Keep your dinner small by roasting this Stuffed Cornish Hen recipe with homemade stuffing plus other recipes for hosting Thanksgiving For Two.
How many people are you serving for Thanksgiving?
One feedback I hear often is how you appreciate my small batch recipes since you often only need 2-4 servings.
That got me thinking about Thanksgiving. Do you host a giant Thanksgiving? Or are you like me where you still only need 2-4 servings?
One year Food Network hosted their Thanksgiving Live.
As it was playing in the background, I heard one couple ask how they could make a Thanksgiving dinner for two.
Even though it’s common to host large families, sometimes you simply don’t have a large family.
Or everyone’s schedules make it difficult to get together on one day.
Or it’s not even November yet you’re craving Thanksgiving in June.
With my family, there’s only four of us. My apartment isn’t large enough, so I do most of the cooking at my parent’s house.
We never do a whole roasted turkey as we’d have leftover for literally months; not only is it too much food for 4 people, my mom and brother don’t eat a lot of turkey to begin with.
Sometimes we may make stuffed turkey breasts or turkey legs, but 90 percent of the time, we make Stuffed Cornish Hen with homemade stuffing.
We make two game hens to serve four people then use any leftovers for chicken salad.
Today I’m sharing my traditional stuffed Cornish hen recipe because I know I’m not the only one who doesn’t need to cook a 20 pound turkey for the biggest food holiday of the year.
What is the difference between a chicken and a Cornish hen?
A Cornish game hen is a type of chicken breed and may be referred to as a broiler chicken. It’s smaller than a regular chicken and ideal for small family meals.
Cornish game hens can be purchased all year round, usually in the frozen chicken section. That means you can still enjoy a small Thanksgiving dinner for two any day you want, not just in November.
Ingredients For Stuffed Cornish Hen
To make your Cornish hen with stuffing, you’ll need the following ingredients:
- Cornish hen: Often found in the frozen chicken section, so make sure you give it enough time to thaw.
- Thyme: Can also substitute rosemary
- Salt and pepper: A very simple seasoning for the skin
- Olive oil: Helps crisp up the skin while roasting
- Butter: Helps bind and flavor your stuffing
- Onion, celery, and garlic: Aromatics to make your stuffing delicious
- Bread: Can use white or whole wheat
How To Bake Cornish Hens
To make stuffed Cornish hen, first make the homemade stuffing. Melt the butter in a skillet then cook your onion, celery, and garlic.
Once that’s done, mix together your bread, butter, and salt. Stir until everything is moistened.
This classic stuffing recipe is actually my mom’s recipe, including the celery. I’m not a fan of celery, but this is the one time I make an exception.
Now it’s time to stuff your Cornish hen! I love going simple when cooking my stuffed Cornish hen recipe because it really is delicious with the proper amount of seasoning.
Stuff your game hen then add any extra stuffing to the bottom of an 8×8 pan. It’ll soak up the juices from the meat plus get crispy on the edges from the oven. Personally I love the crispy edges better than what’s inside the bird.
At this point if you have oven-safe twine, you can tie the hen’s legs together to keep them in place. Certainly not necessary but makes for a nicer presentation.
Brush the outside with olive oil then rub it with salt, black pepper, and thyme. You can use your favorite herb on hand or substitute your favorite seasonings, such as garlic powder or rosemary.
Bake at 400F for 50-60 minutes or until the juices run clear and the internal temperature in the thickest part is 165F.
Should Cornish hens be cooked covered or uncovered?
This is a question I get every year from my parents when they help me with dinner.
Whatever you do, don’t cover your Cornish hen with foil or you’ll lose the crispiness of the skin. The foil traps in the heat, steaming the skin.
How many people does one Cornish hen serve?
It depends on what you’re serving with your Cornish hen with stuffing.
If you’re serving it with a small side dish such as sweet potato casserole, then it’s best to make one game hen per person.
However, with a large feast like Thanksgiving where you’ll be serving a lot of food, one bird will easily feed two people. Maybe even three people if you’re feeding someone with a small appetite such as a child.
My recipe only makes one stuffed Cornish hen for a true Thanksgiving For Two recipe. However when I cook for my family, I make two hens because there are four of us.
If you’re like me who makes two game hens, simply double the recipe and use a 13×9 pan to bake both hens at once.
More Thanksgiving For Two Recipes
Since the likelihood of you reading this while planning your Thanksgiving menu is very high, here are links to my favorite accompanying dishes.
For a full list, check out my Thanksgiving Dinner For Two and Christmas Dinner For Two menus.
- Homemade Gravy Without Drippings – Serve it with mashed potatoes for two.
- Vegan Mushroom Gravy – I personally love to eat mushrooms with everything, so make this extra flavorful gravy for your bird.
- Vegan Stuffed Butternut Squash – Serving someone who doesn’t eat meat? Butternut squash is the perfect alternative for a main dish. Make one Cornish hen for yourself while you make stuffed squash for someone else.
- Stovetop Scalloped Potatoes – This recipe frees up oven space, so you can cook it while you wait for the Cornish hen to finish.
- Au Gratin Potatoes For Two – These au gratin potatoes do require oven space, but you can cook them at the same time as the hen. Since the hen cooks at a slightly higher temperature, the potatoes will be done a little faster than the recipe says.
- Green Bean Casserole Without Mushroom Soup – Using a small casserole dish will still allow you to eat your favorite Thanksgiving casserole with minimal leftovers.
- Small Batch Cranberry Sauce – Makes one small jar, which is about 2-4 servings. Serve any leftovers on cranberry baked Brie!
- Small Pumpkin Pie – Of course no Thanksgiving dinner is complete without a traditional pumpkin pie! This pumpkin pie for two with a homemade small pie crust is scaled down to bake in a 6 inch pie plate.
- Small Pecan Pie – Another pie favorite for Thanksgiving also baked in a 6 inch plate.
Stuffed Cornish Hen
Don’t want to roast a whole turkey this year for Thanksgiving? Keep it small by roasting this Stuffed Cornish Hen recipe with Homemade Classic Stuffing.
- 1 Cornish game hen, thawed and giblets removed
- 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves (or herb of choice)
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- Olive oil, for brushing
Homemade Classic Stuffing
- 1/2 cup (4 ounces or 8 tablespoons) unsalted butter
- 1/2 cup chopped onion
- 1 celery stalk, chopped
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 4 slices white bread, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
For the stuffing:
- In a large skillet, melt the butter. Once hot, add the onion, celery, and a big pinch of salt. Cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook 1 minute.
- In a large bowl, add the bread, onion mixture, and salt. Mix together until the bread is moistened.
For the hen:
- Preheat oven to 400F. Have a small roasting pan or 8x8 pan ready.
- In a small bowl, mix together thyme, salt, and pepper.
- Fill the hen with stuffing. If there is stuffing leftover, add it to the bottom of the pan. If there is no stuffing leftover, add a roasting rack to the pan.
- Tie the hen's legs together with oven-safe twine (optional but keeps the legs in place) then place on top of the stuffing or roasting rack.
- Brush the hen with olive oil then rub the thyme mixture all over, getting underneath the wings, legs, and skin whenever possible.
- Bake for 50-60 minutes or until juices run clear when thickest part of chicken is pierced and internal temperature reaches 165°F.
- Want to double this recipe? Use a 13x9 pan for 2 Cornish hens.
- Planning your holiday menu? Check out Thanksgiving Dinner For Two, Easter Dinner For Two, and Christmas Dinner For Two for recipe pairings.
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First published on November 3, 2016
This post may contain affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate and member of other affiliate programs, I earn from qualifying purchase.
I totally could’ve used this the past 10 years or so! There’s just 3 of us, and I’m the weirdo who doesn’t like turkey (I do like playing around with the leftovers more than the actual Thanksgiving meal). I’ve just been buying split turkey breasts & roasting one of those. It’s MORE than plenty for 2 adults & 1 child.
My mom and brother aren’t huge turkey fans either, so it would basically be me and my dad eating a whole turkey. Just no LOL If everyone loves chicken, you should give Cornish hen a try this year!
How long to cook 2 hens?
It’s still going to be roughly the same time. However, depending on the hot spots in your oven you may need to rotate positions halfway through to ensure even cooking.
Thx, had same question.
This looks wonderful I love cornish hen and the stuffing is a real treat along with them.
Always a classic pairing for the holidays!
I like the idea of adding the extra stuffing to the bottom of the pan. It looks so festive and must be delicious.
Is there a reason you put the hen breast-side-down? I’ve seen it done both ways and was wondering if there’s a benefit that i’m not aware of. This sounds like a great Thanksgiving-y meal for a smaller crowd!
It helps the skin crisp up plus keeps the breasts nice and moist.
Love this! I went to Thanksgiving once where we were served cornish game hens instead of turkey and I thought that was brilliant! Great recipe!
I personally like hens better than turkey. Hope you give this a try!
What good time to post this recipe. I am only cooking for three of us this Thanksgiving so you have inspired me with the game hens. Love this idea.
Oh yes this recipe would be perfect for you! If you decide to make 2 hens for 3 people, this recipe can easily be doubled.
This is such a great idea for a small group! I’d even love this for a fun, leisurely Sunday meal. Thanks for sharing!
Oh yes this recipe is wonderful any time of the year! There’s something special about serving a whole bird (even if it’s a small bird like a hen).
Hi, is there a lot of flavor in the hen even with just oil/S&P/thyme right before putting it in the oven? Can I let it marinate for a few hours beforehand? This is my first time making a Thanksgiving meal for our family and wanted to make sure I do everything right! Thank you :)
You’d be surprised at how delicious simple seasoning can be! Just make sure you don’t skimp on the rub. There is no marinading in the recipe. However, you can brush and rub the chicken up to a few hours beforehand.
How long to cook 4 small (24 oz) Cornish hens?
I haven’t had to cook 4 hens at once, but here’s what I would do: I would plan on cooking the full 60 minutes. Check each bird’s temperature. If it’s not at least 165F, put it back in for probably another 10-15 minutes or so (depends on how far off you are in temperature). If the skin is burning, you can tent the pans with some aluminum foil. Make sure you don’t overcrowd the oven because you want the heat to circulate evenly. Also if your oven has hot spots (aka some of your birds are browning more than the others), you may need to rotate your pans around.
Does this have the same safety concerns as stuffing a turkey? I’ve always heard that you should cook the stuffing separately. But this sounds so good!
I haven’t had an issue, but there can be concern. The main reason is the hen juices seep into the stuffing, so it needs to reach 165F to kill any harmful bacteria. However, a hen is much smaller than a turkey, so it should be less of an issue. If you still have concern (esp if you are serving anyone with a weak immune system), check the stuffing with a digital thermometer.
Cooking instructions for stuffing say to “stir until moistened” but ingredients doesn’t list any moistening agent.
It’s the melted butter from the step before it.
Great recipe but not good for a ciliac. Neither of us are crazy about rhyme but basil works good to.
Use gluten free bread for the stuffing mix and butter instead of olive oil for coating the bird.
If you want a crusty coating for the hen, grind up some pork rinds and shake it over the bird.
Best coating there is and it’s gluten free.
Oh, I would do 1/4 cubes for the gluten free bread, it’ doesn’t compact as much as regular bread
and doesn’t soak up as much liquid.
Thank you for your tips on how to make the recipe gluten free! As for the pork rind coating, the Cornish hen doesn’t need it because the skin will crisp up after baking. However, I love the idea for skinless chicken breast and thighs.
You don’t need to put any season in your stuffing? No sage, poultry seasoning, no onions, garlic, rosemary, thyme?
There is onion and garlic in the stuffing, so I’m not sure why you wrote there isn’t. As for other herbs and seasoning, I put thyme onto the bird itself so I felt I didn’t need it in the stuffing (plus my family doesn’t like sage and rosemary, so I personally don’t add them for Thanksgiving). However, you are certainly welcome to add herbs to your stuffing!
This is perfect for my little family as we don’t need a full thanksgiving spread but more of a 2.5 sort of ordeal. Thanks so much for putting this together!
Glad you found it useful! Let me know if you try it.
My family are literally fed up with that boring turkey :D And it’s really so big that we have to eat remnants for the next 3 days, otherwise, it’s spoiled and thrown into thу trash can (as my money, lol). Dubious pleasure, you know. So I decided to cook another sort of meat, maybe chicken or pork.
Thank you for sharing this recipe, Carla! I add this page to my bookmark list. My relatives will sure love this meal! Can’t wait to surprise them!
Let me know how it goes!
I have been making Thanksgiving Cornish game hens for years and years. I’m surprised that there are still a lot of people who haven’t even heard about game hens. I just wanted to add, I use a lemon/garlic/rosemary blend for my rub. As for leftovers, those little carcasses are perfect for boiling up to make soup or chicken and dumplings. I even will boil in the left over dressing, it adds some thickening and flavor. Happy holidays to all and a Blessed New Year.
Love both the lemon garlic rosemary blend and repurposing the carcass for stock. Thanks for sharing and Happy Holidays!
Thank you so much for this recipe!! It looks great!! Can you guess what I am making on
Christmas this month?!!! Thanks again Tony
Happy to hear you like it! Enjoy!
This Thanksgiving my son and I ,deep fried two little hens! They were great! Fried each bird about 20 minutes each in my electric stew pot! Who needs a great big turkey?
Oh I love how you deep fried them! Thanks for sharing your method.
Hi Carla, I grew up in Pittsburgh (Squirrel Hill). I like your recipe. I guess I would sub in sage for thyme though thyme is such a good herb, especially with pork. I spatchcocked the Cornish hen, which, of course, has nothing really to do with Cornwall) and laid out the stuffing underneath and around the hen.
Yes, sage can be used for thyme if that’s what you have! Rosemary too.
So to be honest, I’m a little lazy-lol. Could I just whip up a batch of stovetop stuffing mix instead of making it myself??
Yes, that should be fine! I’m not sure how much stuffing the box will make, but worst case you have a lot of extra stuffing underneath the bird.
I’ve done cornish hens for years – told the kids they were baby turkeys! each person got their own so no fighting over legs either. leftovers could then go into stew or chicken and noodles or casseroles. Still do them and perfect size for us now as well.
Love the baby turkey story! And yes – no fighting plus you can do a lot with the leftovers.
This was amazing and perfect for my wife and I first Thanksgiving together! Thank you for sharing this!
Oh wonderful! Happy you both enjoyed it for Thanksgiving.
I’m going to try your recipe today for Thanksgiving but I’m not going to put stuffing around the hen as I need drippings to make my gravy. Think I’ll tint cover the hens then under last 30 minutes so hens won’t be dry.
Did you see my recipe for gravy without drippings? You can make it on the stove while the hen is cooking! https://www.chocolatemoosey.com/2012/11/20/homemade-gravy-without-meat-drippings/ No need to tent the hen, especially because your skin won’t crisp up and get soggy. As long as you don’t overcook your hen, it won’t be dry. Make sure you don’t overcook your hen by using an digital thermometer.
I made Cornish hens for the first time ever. Silly me… there were two in the pack and I made both when one would have been enough. They were delicious and I will def be making this again. Even with two hens, I had some leftover stuffing, I just put it in the bottom of the pan as written and it was fine. I did find the stuffing a bit bland and next time I would add a small amount of poultry seasoning or sage to bump up the flavor, but all in all the meal is a keeper.
Did you measure your salt or did you guess? What kind of salt did you use? If it was bland, it sounds like not enough salt was used. I try to keep my recipes at a moderate level since it’s so subjective, but next time you can bump it up. Poultry seasoning is a great idea too.
It’s nice to meet you! My name is Carol and i’m from Du Bois, now living in Ohio. My husband and I are empty nesters and it is so hard to cook for 2 with out a weeks worth of leftovers. I will be using your ideas for cornish hens tonight.
Welcome! Let me know how the Cornish hen turns out.
Hi Carla, The hens turned out great. I don’t have a roasting rack so they sat on carrots. Thanks, Carol
Carrots work too! Glad you enjoyed the recipe.