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

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nwmnnaturalist Oct 27, 2012 08:53 AM

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!

  1. n
    nwmnnaturalist Oct 31, 2012 09:16 AM

    Thanks all for the input! I made the Hens on Monday evening. I think I did very well for doing this for the second time. I cleaned the hens, sprinkled the insides with crushed black pepper and coarse sea salt. I rubbed and basted the outside with a mixture of olive oil, melted butter and a blend of spices (paprika, thyme, rosemary, garlic salt). I roasted them open on a rack over a pan for 25 minutes at 450F, then turned it down to 400F for the last 25 minutes. Most of the skin was quite crispy and detached itself from the bird, but the bottom was a bit wet (but still cooked). The meat was excellent. I made the mistake of not draining the juices out of the birds, so when they were served the plates had a 'lake' of juices! My father was quite pleased with it, though my mother was not very hungry and didn't like picking the chicken off of the bird. We've never really had a problem with 'pickin' chicken' off of larger birds. Next time I cook this, I will de-bone it or at least carve it. Just baked potatoes and green beans for sides, along with some crescent rolls.

    The birds certainly did not need to brine. Thanks all again!

    1. d
      darrentran87 Oct 27, 2012 01:19 PM

      I think the hens are juicy enough without a brine. but that's just my opinion... i like to keep things super simple. if you are brining just to ensure that it stays tender and not for flavor, I would skip the step because of how juciy they naturally are due to their relatively quick cooking times.

      1. e
        exvaxman Oct 27, 2012 01:16 PM

        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.

        1. n
          nwmnnaturalist Oct 27, 2012 12:44 PM

          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
            todao Oct 27, 2012 01:41 PM

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

          2. todao Oct 27, 2012 10:21 AM

            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. t
              travelerjjm Oct 27, 2012 10:17 AM

              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. f
                fourunder Oct 27, 2012 09:45 AM

                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.

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