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Cornish hens...polite fare??

This post is in connection with my original, Spring dinner party menu. I had a trial run for myself and husband & prepared hens 2 ways. One morrocan style roasted hen, and one herb seasoned roasted hen with wild rice apricot dressing. The simple, herb roasted hen was the clear winner for a spring menu BUT my husband insists it will be too messy & a pain in the ...for our guests to eat. I have to admit, the pile of bones left on my plate were unappetizing. Why then are hens and game poultry served in nice restaurants??? i want something which looks impressive on the plate, but am I risking my guests enjoyment by serving hens?? HELP, the party is Saturday.

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  1. I class Cornish hens as family food, not classy food* - along with things like corn on the cob and whole lobsters/crabs - because to enjoy them politely means far too much deft work with a fork and knife and tends to leave tasty morsels on the plate. If your guests are intimate friends, I'd say go for it, and let them use their fingers on certain joints, as it were. Otherwise, choose something else.

    * Unless they are being served as merely one course of a more elaborate multi-course meal where having a couple of ounces of meat is the point. Cornish hens are really just the American version of small chickens more common in Europe.

    1. A whole cornish hen is a lot of food for a dinner party guest. I would have no problem finishing a whole one myself on a regular night, but for a dinner party where you typically have hors d'oeuvres and drinks, a first course like a salad, then an entree (cornish hen), and likely a dessert, you're kind of pushing it.

      The solution? Serve half a hen and buy better quality. Buy a fresh Bell & Evans versus those cheap, frozen Perdue ones (maybe you were anyway). The advantage of serving half a hen is that you can partially debone it. Cut the breast off the carcass leaving the skin and the legs/thighs attached. Frankly speaking, If you're not comfortable with that kind of butchery... buy the pot roast and re-plan your menu. Half a hen is far easier to eat than a whole one and your guests won't be as intimidated with just a leg and thigh bone as they would be with an entire carcass.

      4 Replies
      1. re: Fuller

        you can also easily cut or chop the hens in half after they are cooked. they are easier to attack that way on the plate and can also be presented more attractively. I think cornish hens braises with white wine, herbs and maybe mushrooms (salted and peppered herbs and the liver in the cavity) are a delicious treat.

        1. re: jen kalb

          True, but it still doesn't completely solve the problem of bones. My solution doesn't either, but for now we can only speculate about the formality of the dinner party. Is this a black tie affair or are people going to be sitting in front of the TV eating on paper plates?

          1. re: Fuller

            If we used paper, I guess we could pick the hens up too, lol! It's not superformal, but I did mail out nice invitations and will set my table formally. That being said, we also don't care if someone wears jeans and a t-shirt, and my guests always offer to help clear plates for the next course. We just like to put on a great meal that looks and tastes great!

        2. re: Fuller

          I like the idea of partially deboning..I did have the trial hens halved and removed the backbones. Taking the breast off the ribcage would make it easier to eat. My husband agreed that half will likely be enough since we are serving apps and salad.

        3. I find it messy, too, and don't like it if not with close friends and family where you feel like you can dig in. I can't get all the little morsels with a fork and knife. Plus, I find even half a hen to be too big portion-wise for me and it all goes to waste. I went to a dinner party where a whole hen was served to each person. Hard to eat, much leftover and wasted. It was sad to see.

          1. Serve boneless chicken breast...problem solved

            9 Replies
              1. re: Fuller

                And why not? Chicken breast has been "dinner party fare" for years

                1. re: Cherylptw

                  I never order chicken breast out. At a dinner, I'd want something you wouldn't cook yourself everyday. To me it doesn't cry out 'special.' I agree with Fuller. I'd serve it to my guests at a BBQ but not a dinner party.

                  1. re: mrsgreer

                    Just so you know, chicken breasts can be a blank slate for excellent dishes. I'm a caterer and I do poultry by request at least 70% of the time for a party. Chicken breasts don't come from the store "special", you have to make them that way. Good luck with your dinner...

                    1. re: Cherylptw

                      Poultry by request does not equal chicken breasts. At least in my opinion it shouldn't.

                      Because they are such a blank slate, they are very easy to use in a catering environment. Now we're getting a little off topic here, but I think catering and dinner parties are a completely different animal. Catering is about efficiency and timing (sometimes) at the expense of quality. I think we've all been to weddings where an inferior dog food-type dinner was served ("you want chicken or steak or fish"). Of course all of those wedding entrees come with rice pilaf and steamed vegetables. Sound dreadfully familiar?

                      Dinner parties are about #1 getting together with friends but #2 having good quality food. Chicken breasts, the epitome of standard American weeknight meals, are hardly special.

                      1. re: Fuller

                        Boneless skinless chicken breasts are America's tofu. Yes, there are treatments that might be dinner party worthy, but the prospect underwhelms; actually, I think those treatments are better suited to fine luncheons rather than dinners.

                        1. re: Fuller

                          Can I get a 'Amen'! on that one?

                          1. re: Cherylptw

                            Actually, the bones vs flesh issue is not the same with CH and roasting chickens. Where you have larger amounts of flesh tissue, and the bones are a bit bigger, it is easier to navigate with fork and knife and not be frustrated. Unlike with quail or other small game birds (ortolan, anyone?), it's not considered "polite" to use fingers with CHs.

                    2. re: Fuller

                      And PS: For fine catering, boneless duck breast is MUCH better than boneless chicken breast. It's much more forgiving and much more delicious.

                2. Spatchcock and herb roast....nice presentation. Those who want only 1/2 can easily separate them....Or change the entree so you want ruin... Your enjoyment! ~~ Mostly just relax....

                  Have Fun & Enjoy!