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Roasting Cornish Game Hens. To brine or not to brine?

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I'm planning a special meal for my folks and I've fallen in love with the flavor and ease of cooking of Cornish game hens. My mom's more used to bland chicken flavors, so she's not always that thrilled about the hens. My father loves them. Hopefully I can get mom warmed up to them more!

So I have a good rubbing spice ready, and plan to roast them in some brown paper bags (as tradition in our family). But I'm thinking about putting the hens in a brine to really get them juicy and ready to roast. Am I on the right track or is it completely unnecessary?

The spread is the game hens, some roasted new potatoes with green beans and asparagus in a rosemary cream sauce, some crescent rolls and for dessert, a sweet potato pie. I can be pretty lazy about cooking decent meals, but when I do cook something fresh I tend to really enjoy it. It's pretty hard to be enthusiastic since we don't have a lot of great ingredients where I live. Our growing season is pretty short, and the fresh and local scene is slowly getting under way. But I really try!

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  1. I think you answer your own question in the first paragraph.....why mask the natural flavor of the poultry. Brining alters the taste and texture of the flesh.

    1. I often brine my hens instead of using a rub. I think it makes them more tender and juicy. I only use light flavors like citrus because I like the less-bland flavor. When I do chicken I often brine on those rare occasions when I roast them.

      If you have not spatchocked them, you could stuff them with veggies (onion, garlic, celery and carrot -- maybe some spices). I do that for a slight flavor enhancer and then toss 'em. This might be good for your "en papillote" steam-enriched cooking.

      1. I have found that some people who say they don't like a particular type of poultry aren't critical of the taste/texture etc., they are simply uncomfortable eating meat that's attached to the bone. They often don't know whether they should pick it up and eat with their fingers or try to fight it with a fork and knife.
        Some also don't like skin attached to their serving of poultry.
        Spatchcocking doesn't solve that problem, but have you considered de-boning the game hens; or at least hers.
        Here's a link you might find useful:
        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vabn7d...
        I like to use a pair or needle nose pliers (part of the kitchen tool collection) for those small bones he describes but they can be removed with fingers and a good grip.
        As far as brining is concerned, I disagree with the "mask the natural comment" above. Brining shouldn't do anything more than help balance moisture in the meat.
        That said, I don't believe brining should be necessary but if it's' something you feel is important to your meal preparation there's no reason not to do it. I assume you're acquainted with the benefits of brining and the potential problems associated with the process so I won't venture into that subject.

        1. I want to only use a very simple brine, comprised of sea salt and peppercorns. I'm thinking 3 hens in brine for about 2 hours. The hens have such a good natural flavor, and all I'm really trying to do is make sure the hens are plenty juicy.

          1 Reply
          1. re: nwmnnaturalist

            Peppercorns might be an ingredient useful in a marinade but, in a brine, I don't see what value they would have.

          2. My son loves cornish hens and usually asks for one as an after school snack.
            I usually deep fry them since we like them that way. I did brine one with salt and garlic a while ago and decided it was not worth the effort.