Braised Chicken (or Game Hen) with Garlic, Herbs & Lemon

by Cat, Nov 2011 (Photo, right, from Wikipedia)

Dark Cornish Hen

Dark Cornish Hen

This recipe is also known as “chicken with 40 cloves of garlic.” Made with game hen(s), this is just about my favorite Sunday Dinner recipe. I just love the flavor of the sweet garlic when roasted with the bird in the braising pan. The preserved Meyer lemons work well with the garlic, although regular fresh lemon works well, too.

While the instructions for this recipe are lengthy, it is really easy to make this dish Excellent with steamed baby red potatoes, and braised greens with onion or shallots.

About Braising

Braising is one of my favorite cooking methods because it uses moisture and low heat to produce the most tender of products. It can be used for any meats and is well suited for cooking veggies in the pot with the meat. It can be done in a Dutch oven on top of the stove, or in an enameled cast iron pot in the oven.

Typically, you first sear the meat on all sides in a hot pan, then add your braising liquid, reduce the heat to a low simmer, and cook until done. The braising liquid can then be reduced to make an excellent and flavorful sauce.

I love using smaller birds such as cornish game hens or wild grouse instead of chicken for braising.

Notes on Brining

See also: How to Brine ChickenCornish Game Hens, Grouse, Pheasant & Other Small Fowl (scroll to Brining section), and Brining Poultry

I prefer to brine before cooking, to improve flavor and moisture retention. It will take a large container to allow the entire bird to be immersed in brine. For a chicken, I use my large stock pot, and pre-measure amount of water required to cover the bird, to calculate how much salt to use. For a game hen, I use my large mixing bowl.

You want 1 ½ cup Morton kosher salt, or 1 cup table salt (not iodized) per gallon of water. Plan on 1 quart brine per pound of bird; 4 – 5 cups is sufficient for a 22 oz game hen. You can also add sugar, as I do when I brine game hens.

If you don’t have room in your fridge for the large brining pot, set pot in a root cellar at 40° – 45° F. Be sure to keep the bird submerged, using a weighted plate if necessary.

Or you can cut the chicken into pieces and brine just the breasts.

Try this recipe with other poultry, such as cornish game hens or wild game. Here are recommended brine times: (from Hunter Angler Gardener Cook blog (1), unless noted otherwise). Note that 2 game hens provide the same number of servings as 1 whole chicken.

  • Chicken, grouse, quail and pheasant require: 4 – 12 hours or overnight (whole bird).
  • Cornish game hens require 1 – 2 hours;
  • Duck requires 2 – 2.5 hours (from Alton Brown’s Mighty Duck recipe (2))

Braised Chicken (or Game Hen) with Garlic, Herbs & Lemon

This recipe is adapted from Fine Cooking (3), originally by Jennifer McLagan. It uses a whole chicken rather than just thighs or breasts (yea!), braised with garlic and a wonderful lemon-herb combo. You could also use two game hens; butterfly or halve them for brining and braising. Actually, I prefer this with game hens, and it is very, very good!

Don’t be off-put by all the garlic: remember that roasted garlic is wonderfully sweet and devoid of that acrid raw-garlic flavor. It can be squeezed out of its skin to be eaten with the chicken, or spread onto French Baguette or other rustic bread such as Ciabatta. I like to squeeze out a few garlic cloves into the reduced sauce, just before serving. For more on garlic, see Making the most of garlic’s two personalities (4).

Most commercial paprika powder is devoid of flavor, so be sure to search out fresh and pungent Hungarian paprika. Heating it in a bit of olive oil or butter before browning the chicken helps bring out the flavor.

Preserved lemon is delicious in this dish. This is difficult to find in stores but easy to make at home. All you need are fresh lemons, Kosher salt, and whole spices to add flavor. See my Preserved Lemons for recipe.

I prefer the stove-top braise, even though it takes longer, because the meat is juicier.

Serves 4.

For a printable version of this recipe (2 page pdf), see Braised Chicken with Garlic, Herbs & Lemon.

Ingredients & Equipment:

  • 1 whole or halved pasture-raised chicken, or 2 game hens, butterflied; brined with kosher salt, and optional sugar & herbs (see Notes on Brining, above)
  • 40 cloves unpeeled garlic (or 20, for smaller game)
  • one lemon, quartered – preserved Meyer lemon is best but fresh will also work
  • ¼ tsp sweet Hungarian paprika
  • pat of butter (optional)
  • 2 Tbsp lard or coconut oil (for  searing)
  • ½ cup dry white wine, such as vermouth
  • 1 cup homemade chicken stock
  • Unrefined sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • slices of French Baguette, Ciabatta, or other rustic bread, toasted if desired
  • Herbs: 2 sprigs each (or more if add to brine)
  • fresh thyme
  • fresh rosemary (I add extra rosemary because I love it in this dish)
  • fresh parsley (flat-leaf Italian preferred)
  • Equipment:
  • large pot (for brining)
  • 3-quart saucier or Dutch oven (large enough to hold chicken snugly)
  • serving platter


  1. Prep & Brine bird: Trim excess fat from cavity of chicken (I also remove the tail and glands at base of the tail because of the bitterness).
  2. Brine whole chicken for at least 4 hours, or overnight; brine just breasts 30 min. Brine game hens 1 – 2 hours. Add a sprig each of thyme & rosemary and 1 – 5 Tbsp Rapadura sugar to the brine for whole chicken, if desired.
  3. Meanwhile, remove papery skins from garlic, but do not remove peel.
  4. Remove chicken from brine; Rinse and pat dry.  Quarter and juice the lemon; NOTE: If using preserved lemon, the juice is part of the liquids in the jar, so you don’t need to juice it.
  5. Prepare whole chicken for roasting: cross legs & tie together; tuck wings under.
  6. Sear on stove-top: Add paprika to oil and butter in pot; heat over medium high flame. Add chicken, breast-side down (or for butterflied hen, skin side down) and cook until skin is browned, about 2 minutes. Turn and cook back and sides until browned, about 2 minutes per side. Transfer to a plate; pour off most of oil in pot, if desired (I don’t pour it off, as I love good fats and how they flavor the food.
  7. Choose braise method. 
    • Stove-top braise: Braise on stove-top in saucier, at a simmer; you may need a simmer plate. It may take longer for the meat to reach desired temperature with this method, but the meat will be juicier. OR
    • Oven braise: Use ovenproof pot, and position oven rack in lower third of oven; preheat to 400° F.
  8. Braise: Return pot to medium-high heat; add garlic and wine, stirring to deglaze. Return chicken to pot, breast-side/skin-side up on top of garlic. Add herbs, pour broth over chicken and bring to a boil.
  9. Add prepped lemon:
    • For whole chicken: place lemon quarters in the cavity (reserve juice).
    • For butterflied hen or cut-up chicken: add lemon quarter and juice to the braise (after searing).
  10. Cook:
    • Stovetop: cover saucier/pot and simmer, OR
    • Oven: transfer to oven-proof pot to preheated oven.
  11. As chicken cooks, baste every 20 minutes, until thigh registers 160° F on instant-read thermometer. Approximate cooking time:
    • Chicken: about 45 – 60 minutes (oven braise) or 100 minutes (stove-top braise).
    • Game Hens: 60 – 75 minutes (stove-top braise).
  12. Uncover and continue to cook chicken until thigh registers 165° to 170° F, and the juices from the thigh run clear when thermometer is removed, about 10 minutes more.
  13. Transfer chicken to cutting board, and garlic cloves to a serving platter, both covered loosely with foil to keep warm.
  14. Sauce: Strain braising liquid from the pot into a small saucepan, discarding herbs. Or remove any remaining herbs, garlic peels, etc with slotted spoon, leaving liquid in the saucier. Tilt pan so juices collect in one corner and spoon off as much fat as desired (I like to keep the fat).
  15. Squeeze out the pulp of several garlic cloves into the sauce. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Simmer until reduced to ¾ cup, about 5 minutes. If you wish a thicker sauce, stir some Organic cornstarch in water until mixed, then whisk into sauce and cook until thickens. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and some of the reserved lemon juice (or, if using preserved lemon, add a bit of the juices from the jar, then replace the removed juice with filtered water, and press down on the lemon so that it is submerged).
  16. Carve whole chicken, transferring pieces to serving platter with the garlic; if using game hens, cut the butterflied hens in half lengthwise and transfer to platter with the garlic.
  17. Serve with sauce and slices of baguette or other rustic bread.

Serving ideas

  • Serve with spinach or other greens sauteed with sliced shallots then braised just until wilted. Season with coriander, salt and pepper. Crushed red pepper flakes can also be added if you want some heat. (see Sauteed Spinach & Shallots for more detail).
  • Serve with white or brown rice, or wild riceWild & Brown Rice Pilaf is another option.
  • Baked butternut squash or yams is another fine accompaniment.
  • Serve with salad of fresh garden greens, crumbled gorgonzola, and balsamic dressing.


Chicken, 11/8/11: I used chicken pieces (thigh, drumstick, wing and half-breast) as half recipe, and brined just the breast with Kosher salt (no sugar). Used 20 cloves garlic. Mixed paprika with a bit of butter and tried to rub that onto the chicken pieces but it wouldn’t stick. So I added it to the olive oil used for searing the chicken. This worked really well, so I’ve modified the process accordingly. I used 1/4 of a preserved Meyer lemon instead of a fresh lemon; this too was an excellent modification, which I’ve added to the recipe.

After searing the chicken, I did not pour off any of the oil – not much had accumulated, plus I am not a low-fat dieter. I braised in my saucier on stove-top, at a simmer, which worked really well. However it took a lot longer for the chicken to reach the desired temperature – about 100 minutes. When I removed the garlic from the saucier, some of them squeezed out their garlic pulp – another excellent modification: I recommend squeezing out the pulp of 3 cloves for half recipe; 6 cloves for full recipe, into the sauce. The sauce cooked down nicely while the chicken was cooking the extra time, so I didn’t need to reduce it after straining. Result: This is excellent. I heartily recommend using preserved Meyer lemon and the other discoveries I made, which are now included in the recipe as written.

 Game Hen, 7/26/12:  Used halved game hen, brined 2 hours and followed according to half recipe (a hen is  equivalent to about half a chicken), as for previous testing. I browned then braised in my cast iron skillet, using a simmer plate* which kept it at a slow simmer. I took over 2 hours to reach internal temperature. When cooking down the sauce, I smashed 2 of the cooked garlic cloves into the sauce. Result: Very tender, falling off bones. Flavor of sauce and meat – excellent!

Game Hen, 4/25/14: Made as above, letting butterflied bird rest if fridge 2 days after brining. Did not use simmer plate, and it only took about 75 minutes to reach internal temperature (160). As before, smashed 2 cooked garlic cloves into the sauce. Result: as always, meat is very tender and along with the sauce, very flavorful. So good in fact that it’s very hard to stop at one serving.

Game hen, 6/19/2015:  Made as above, letting butterflied & brined hen rest n fridge 2 days before cooking. After searing, started the braise at 5:25 PM; 160°F at 6:40 (75 min), so removed lid and continued to simmer; falling off bones at 6:55 so removed to platter. Sauce needs more moisture (much had evaporated), so added water and let it boil down just a bit while the bird and garlic waited on platter. Started long-cooked wild rice at 6 PM (after 2 boiling rinses); still not fully tender at 7 PM, so turned off the heat and let it rest while I braised asparagus and chard. That did the trick, as it was just right. Result: Hen is tender and delicious as always; sauce is excellent too, with just a hint of the lemon flavor. Wild rice is a very good accompaniment, providing a bit of chewiness to complement the garlic and meat. Veggies also work well with the rest of the dinner.

Cat;s Kitchen Range with Griddle

Cat;s Kitchen Range with Griddle

*NOTE about simmer plate: My gas range has two open burners and two solid burners (built-in simmer plate). When I say I used a simmer plate, that means an extra simmer plate that puts air between pan and top of solid burner. When I say I did not use a simmer plate, that means I used the solid burner but not an extra simmer plate.

In photo, right, the solid burners are on left rear ((under steamer pot) and right front.


  1. Hunter, Angler, Gardener Cooking Blog:
  2. Alton Brown’s Mighty Duck:

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