If you’ve been out to a restaurant lately, you might have seen Cornish hen on the menu.
In fact, these little delicacies are becoming more and more common in butchers and grocery stores too, so they may have caught your eye there as well!
But what is a Cornish hen and how is it different from chicken? Chicken has a slightly stronger flavor and is more versatile, but the Cornish hen is so small that it can be served as an individual bird per person. For this reason, the Cornish hen is becoming more popular at gourmet restaurants and dinner parties.
Interested to find out more about this tiny version of a chicken? Let’s take a look into the differences between chicken and Cornish hen!
What Is A Cornish Hen?
Cornish hens are a hybrid breed of hen, created by crossing two breeds of chicken. Also known as a Cornish game hen or Rock Cornish hen, these birds are normally served as an individual bird per person.
So, does this mean that they are unusually small chickens? And how do they get them so small?!
This very special breed of hen comes from Cornwall, in England.
If you ever visit England then Cornwall should definitely be on your ‘must see’ list – with rocky cliffs, sandy beaches, and green fields, it is a perfect piece of the English countryside!
But, anyway, back to hens! A Cornish hen is a cross between two different breeds of chicken, the White Plymouth Rock and the Cornish chicken.
If you’ve never heard of these two breeds, then don’t worry – the world of hen breeding is very complicated!
The Cornish chicken was once known as the Indian game chicken, which is why our Cornish hens are sometimes called Cornish game hens.
A game hen or chicken is one that was bred for fighting, but it turned out the Indian game chicken was a terrible fighter, so it became a popular eating bird instead!
The Cornish chicken is heavy and muscular with a large breast, perfect for a roast chicken dinner.
The White Plymouth Rock chicken is a much more traditional type of hen, much like the ones you would see in a farmyard scene.
This breed of chicken is a good all-rounder, popular for both egg production and meat. Like the Cornish chicken, the White Plymouth Rock is a standard-sized chicken.
So, what happens when you cross these two breeds? As they are both normal-sized chickens, you get a hybrid that will grow to the size of a normal hen.
That’s right! Contrary to popular belief, the mature Cornish hen is actually a full-size chicken! To get the desirable small bird, the Cornish hen is eaten at a much younger age than other types of chicken.
The difference between the Cornish hen and other breeds of chicken is the speed at which they grow, and how they develop.
They are a fast-growing chicken that grows a large breast in a short space of time. This is covered in a fatty layer of skin, which helps to keep the meat moist during cooking.
To get the perfect size of Cornish hen, they are eaten at four to five weeks of age, when they weigh between 1 and 2 pounds. In contrast, a normal roasting chicken would be eaten at twice this age and would weigh twice as much.
Oh, and one last thing to clear up! The word ‘hen’ normally refers to a female chicken. But, although it is called the Cornish hen, both the males and females are normally eaten.
What Is The Difference Between Chicken And Cornish Hen?
The obvious difference when it comes to chicken vs Cornish hen is the size of the bird. Most chickens weigh about twice as much as a Cornish hen and will have been left to mature and grow for twice as long.
Weighing in at under 2 pounds, the Cornish hen can be served as an individual portion. They have a high amount of meat for their size, with small bones, making them perfect for an elegant dinner party.
When it comes to chickens, you’d be a bit daunted if someone put a whole one in front of you! A roasting chicken can weigh up to 7 pounds and is normally divided into portions before serving or carved at the table.
A big difference between chickens and Cornish hens is the way they are sold. Chicken meat is very versatile, and it can be sold whole or divided into portions.
In your butchers or grocery store, you will normally find chicken drumsticks, thighs, wings, and breasts. You will also have the option of getting your chicken boneless, skinless, or both.
Because of their small size, you don’t get these options with a Cornish hen. They are too small to debone or cut into portions, so they are always sold as a whole bird.
Pound for pound, Cornish hen is also normally more expensive than a traditional roasting chicken.
Cornish Hen Vs Chicken: Taste Comparison
Most people think that there is very little taste difference when eating chicken vs Cornish hen. Both have a delicate, almost sweet, flavor, which melts in the mouth.
Sometimes, chicken can taste slightly stronger in flavor, but it depends on what type of bird you buy.
As the Cornish hen is eaten at a younger age, it is normally more tender in texture than the chicken.
It also has a different body shape thanks to its Indian game chicken parentage and will have a large amount of breast meat in proportion to its body.
Oh, and even though they are sometimes called Cornish game hens, they do not taste at all gamey!
The main difference between Cornish hen and chicken is the way they are cooked and served. Chicken can be roasted as a whole bird, in the same way as Cornish hens.
However, chicken is much more versatile as it can be divided in many ways, to make a huge range of different dishes.
Cornish hens are generally only cooked in one way – roasted as a whole bird. This bird is the perfect size to serve one person as a main meal.
Alternatively, it is relatively easy to split the bird into two after roasting if a smaller portion is desired.
So, if you are looking for a luxurious dinner party dish, the Cornish hen will undoubtedly impress your guests! This little bird will be soft, tender, juicy, and full of flavor.
When prepared correctly, the meat will fall easily off the bone, making it a delight to eat.
But if you want an easy midweek dinner for the family, stick to a normal roasting chicken. Cornish hens are nearly always more expensive than chickens and can also be difficult to find in the grocery store.
Chicken Vs Cornish Hen: Nutrition Comparison
All types of poultry are high in protein, which is an essential part of our daily diet. However, when it comes to chicken vs Cornish hen, which one is better for us?
The main difference comes from the age at which the two types of chicken are eaten. Cornish hens are eaten at 4-5 weeks of age before they are fully grown.
Cornish hens have a lower fat content than chickens and are very lean. This means that Cornish hen meat is lower in calories than chicken.
Cornish hens also have a higher proportion of white meat than chickens and less dark meat. White meat is rich in niacin, which can help to boost brain function and lower cholesterol.
This doesn’t mean that dark meat is bad for you though! The dark meat content of chicken is high in riboflavin. This is essential for cellular reproduction, helping the body to produce red blood cells and maintain healthy skin, hair, and nails.
Both Cornish hens and chickens are great sources of vitamins. They contain vitamin D, which can help keeps bones strong and healthy, and vitamin A, which is said to be good for eyesight.
So, which one wins the nutrition challenge? Well, they are both pretty similar in nutritional content, and the main difference is the lower fat content of the Cornish hen compared to chicken.
If you’re looking to reduce your calorie intake then opt for the Cornish hen, but otherwise, you can enjoy either bird safe in the knowledge that they are packed full of health benefits!
Where To Buy Cornish Hen
Look in any grocery store or butcher, and you’ll see numerous different options for buying chicken meat. They can be sold whole, in portions, diced, skinless, boneless, or even minced! But where would you go to buy a Cornish hen?
You might have a hard time finding Cornish hens in your grocery store. These little birds are a luxury item, and many stores do not stock them. However, if you ask your butcher, they may be able to order them in for you.
Because they are not as popular, it can be difficult to find fresh Cornish hens at any store. They are most often sold as frozen birds, to prolong their shelf life.
You will almost certainly pay more, pound for pound, for a Cornish hen than a chicken.
With the rising demand for high-quality meat products, it is possible to get Cornish hens that are free-range or even organic.
This means that they have enjoyed a better quality of life and higher quality food than conventionally reared hens.
What Is The Best Way To Cook A Cornish Hen?
If you are used to roasting a whole full-size chicken, then the tiny Cornish hen might look a bit daunting!
However, if prepared and cooked correctly you will be rewarded with a delightful dinner which you would be proud to serve to your friends and family.
Let’s get one thing straight – there is only one way to cook a Cornish hen, and that is by cooking them whole. These tiny birds are almost impossible to debone or divide into portions, so they are always cooked as an entire bird.
However, you can butterfly your Cornish hen for some cooking methods. This means splitting the hen in half along the backbone, to enable you to flatten the bird.
You then have a thinner piece of meat which will cook much faster than a whole hen.
Because of their tiny size, Cornish hens are actually easier to prepare and cook than a full-size chicken!
They will cook much faster, and pretty much any chicken recipe can be adapted to suit the smaller Cornish hen. A typical-sized Cornish hen would roast in approximately 25 minutes in an oven at 450°F.
The shorter cooking time of the Cornish hen will give you fully cooked succulent meat with that sublime crispy skin that we all crave! The fatty layer of the skin bastes the meat during cooking, keeping it tender and moist.
Here are the different methods of cooking a Cornish hen:
Roast a whole Cornish hen at 20-25 minutes in a 450°F oven. It is very common to roast a Cornish hen in the same pan as your vegetables and potatoes.
If you are looking for extra crispy skin, add a glaze and roast the bird at a lower temperature for a further 15 minutes. A good partner for Cornish hen is a maple glaze, which will give you beautifully sweet and crispy skin!
Remove from the oven and leave covered in foil for at least 10 minutes before serving.
A butterflied Cornish hen can be grilled and will take just 8 minutes on each side to cook through. It is advisable to marinade your Cornish hen before grilling, as this method may dry out the meat.
Butterfly your Cornish hen and add it, skin side down, to a large, hot pan, along with some oil.
Season well, and after 10 minutes turn the bird over. Cook for 10 more minutes, basting the bird regularly with oil.
Both of these methods will work with a whole or butterflied Cornish hen and will give you a moist and succulent chicken.
Brown the skin of the hen first in a hot pan with olive oil. Place the bird in your slow cooker or braising pot and add chicken broth to cover the lower half of the bird. Cook in a low oven for 90 minutes, or slow cooker for 4 hours.
Now that we’ve gone over the difference between Cornish hens and chickens, let’s take a look at a few related questions on the subject!
Can you stuff a Cornish hame hen?
These birds may be tiny, but it is absolutely possible to stuff them! Just be very careful when you do so, as it is very easy to tear the delicate skin of the Cornish hen.
You will need about 1 cup of stuffing per bird. Any stuffing recipe for roast chicken will work well with a Cornish hen and will help to keep your meat succulent and full of flavor.
What is the best marinade for Cornish hen?
Your tiny Cornish hens deserve the very best treatment, and a marinade can be a great way to make the most out of your bird.
Basically, pretty much any marinade recipe for roast chicken will work well with a Cornish hen, but here are some of our favorites:
- Lemon and butter
- Garlic and herbs
- Rosemary and olive oil
- Orange, coriander, and cumin
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