The Rock Cornish game hen may sound British but it's actually the creation of a Connecticut couple back in the 50s. It's a cross between a Cornish game cock and a Plymouth Rock hen. The resulting progeny is a bird that, at a mere 30-days-old, is a plump, succulent-tasting, all-white meat, single serving chicken. It is for this reason that the Cornish hen is so popular at banquets and large dinners. They are easy to prepare and serve, yet are delicious and elegant looking enough to make the diner feel like it is a special meal. Even though, in the end, they are just getting a young chicken. And that is pretty much what they taste like.
The best way to cook a Cornish game hen is to roast it in a low-heat oven with a piece of fatty bacon covering the breast. This method of covering poultry or other meat with a piece of bacon is an old French technique called barding. It keeps the breast meat from drying out while the rest cooks. It is best not to stuff the inside of the bird, as this will slow cooking considerably. Roast the stuffing separately.
1. Prep the Cornish game hens for roasting. Prepping these juicy little birds is very simple. Rinse the them under cool water and dry them with paper towels. Then generously salt the birds inside and out with sea salt. Rub on some fresh cracked black pepper, if you like. Put one of the following inside: a small chunk of lemon, onion, or butter with a sprig of sage or rosemary. Truss each bird with butcher's twine and rub them all with oil. That's it. Keep it simple.
2. Put the prepped birds into the preheated oven. Preheat the oven to 400º F, and move the rack to the second-from-the-bottom spot. The last thing that you add to the game hen is some thick-cut, fatty bacon on top of the breasts. The breast meat is very lean, and the bacon will help to protect it from the heat while the rest of the bird cooks. Once the oven is preheated, put the birds in and set the timer for 45 minutes. Time is not exact, but temperature is. Roast them until their temps are 145º F.
3. Once the birds have reached 145º F, take them out of the oven. Remove the birds and turn the oven up to 450º F. This last stage of roasting is to brown the skin and get it crispy. Also, we need to get the temp of the birds from 145º to 155º F. I know the recommended temp for poultry is 165º. But that is too high. The meat is really dry at that temp. If you cook it to 155º, the meat will be perfectly safe, providing you use a good thermometer.
4. Roast the birds until they reach 155º F. Like I was saying, this last stage is just to get the breast skin nice and crispy. So keep your eye on them as they roast. Check them after 10 minutes and see how they look. You may have to rotate them in order to get even browning. As you can tell from the picture, my oven is old and crappy because the browning is so uneven. I tell you what, though—they still tasted great. Just ask my roommate.
When roasting, never open the oven door to check to see "how things are going" more than you have to. You're allowed one time and that's it. You let all the heat out when you open the door, and that really messes with the cooking process.
Don't put any stuffing inside the birds. Roast that separately. Just put one or two aromatics inside but leave plenty of air space.
Don't skip the trussing step. I know it seems like a bigger pain than it's worth but it isn't. The trussing helps with two things: it makes the finished product look better and it helps the birds cook more evenly.