Thanksgiving Roasted Game Hen with Rosemary & Apple Stuffing

Dark Cornish Hen

Dark Cornish Hen

by Cat, Thanksgiving, 2013 (photo, right, from Wikimedia Commons)

This is the first Thanksgiving in a long time that it has been just me. Rather than going out to a restaurant, I decided to make something special just for me, for a time of thankful reverence for this blessed life I’ve been given.

A turkey is just too big and I eat chicken all the time, so I decided on a Cornish game hen, with some kind of stuffing cooked separately (I prefer to butterfly the hen for roasting). I  like the idea of apple in the stuffing, and found Cornish Game Hens with Rosemary and Apple Stuffing on (1). It’s perfect for me to adapt.

In 2016, I tried a variation on this Tiny Turkey, using a Wild Rice with Cashews and Mushrooms Dressing. Note: this is a gluten-free option.

See also: 1. About Cornish Game Hens, Grouse, Pheasant & Other Small Fowl for brining instructions; 2. Main Course menu: Poultry & Fowl for more game hen recipes. I made my own flavored croutons, using stale whole wheat bread, but you could use commercial croutons if you wish. I added balsamic vinegar to the original marinade recipe for some liquid and sweetening. I brined the bird the day before, set it uncovered in the fridge to dry overnight, then marinated it per my adjusted recipe.

Roasted Game Hen with Rosemary & Apple Dressing

This recipe is adapted from Cornish Game Hens with Rosemary and Apple Stuffing (1) on The original recipe is for 4 hens roasted whole, but I’ve modified this for just one, butterflied. The original calls for fresh basil and fresh red peppers, but I don’t have any, and besides they are out of season here in Montana, so I skipped that.

You can use the stuffing to stuff the bird if you wish, but I prefer to bake it separately to avoid risk of undercooking. If you are gluten-free, or just want to try something different, try Nuts n Seeds Poultry Stuffing, with apple and rosemary.

Based on my first making of this recipe (Nov 27-28, 2013), the stuffing needed some adjustment. The updated version is shown here and the original version is provided in the ‘Testing’ section below the recipe. Dec 1, 2013 testing of the adjusted dressing recipe is shown on my post Poultry Stuffing – Broth? Eggs?.

Ingredients & Equipment:

  • Bird
  • 1 Cornish game hen (defrosted, if frozen)
  • large bowl for brining
  • Baking sheet or pan for roasting (glass is OK if oven is below 400°F)
  • Marinade
  • 1 sprig fresh rosemary
  • 1 sprig fresh thyme
  • 1 sprig fresh basil (optional)
  • ½ garlic clove (chopped; reserve the other half for the stuffing)
  • 1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 2 Tbsp unsalted butter
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • ½ Tbsp fresh diced red peppers (optional)
  • baking dish (pyrex)
  • Croutons (for Stuffing):
  • ¼ cup (half stick) unsalted butter
  • chopped leaves of 1 small sprig fresh rosemary
  • leaves of thyme from 1-2 sprigs
  • ½ garlic clove, minced
  • ¼ tsp unrefined sea salt, or to taste
  • 3 – 4 slices stale but not dried whole grain or cracked-grain bread (enough to make 2 cups of ½” cubes)
  • baking sheet
  • Stuffing (as adjusted per testing for added moisture)
  • ¼ small sweet onion, finely chopped
  • 1 stalk celery with leaves, finely chopped
  • 1 Tbsp scallion, chopped coarsely
  • 2 Tbsp homemade Chicken Stock, or more as needed (each batch is different)
  • unrefined sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 1 honeycrisp, Macintosh or other cooking apple, diced
  • skillet
  • bowl
  • casserole dish (if not stuffing the bird)


  1. Brine and Marinate Hen: The day before, or at least 2 hours before roasting, prepare the croutons, using butter with finely minced or ground rosemary and thyme.
  2. Rinse and butterfly hen. Brine for 2 – 3 hours. Remove from brine and rinse well, then pat dry.
  3. While the bird is brining, prepare the marinade: Combine all marinade ingredients, then brush over bird and place in a baking pan with lid (or use a zip-top plastic bag). Marinate in refrigerator 2 – 3 hours.
  4. Meanwhile, prepare croutons for the stuffing:  Allow ¼ cup butter to soften in a small bowl.
  5. Mince fresh rosemary and thyme leaves. Mince garlic, sprinkle with salt, then press to a paste with the side of your knife blade.  Let rest a few minutes, then mix rosemary and garlic into softened butter.
  6. Spread thinly on both sides of bread, then cut bread into cubes. This is a bit tricky especially if the bread is fairly soft. Save any unused butter mixture to add to the stuffing.
  7. Toast cubes: Arrange on a baking sheet and toast in oven preheated to 350° – 400°F for about 15 – 20 minutes, tossing around occasionally so all sides get toasted; or toast in a cast iron skillet, stirring/tossing so all sides get toasted.
  8. Prepare dressing/stuffing: Place leftover butter mixture from croutons (2 Tbsp butter) in skillet over medium heat; add onion, celery, rosemary and thyme, and sauté until begins to soften; add ¼ tsp salt and the chopped garlic; cover skillet, reduce heat to low and cook until soft, and some liquid has been released.
  9. Add toasted bread cubes to skillet and stir over low heat until combined. Cover with lid for 5 minutes.
  10. Remove from heat and transfer to bowl for mixing, or mix in the skillet: Add chopped scallion and drizzle chicken stock over and mix well, adding more stock as needed for mixture to be moist but not wet. Set aside until ready to cook; then stir in diced apples. Transfer to buttered casserole and cover with lid or aluminum foil.
  11. If baking separately (not with roasted bird), bake in 375°F oven for 30 minutes, then remove lid/foil. Bake without cover for another 15-20 minutes until stuffing begins to brown.
  12. Roast hen and stuffing: Preheat oven to 4oo°F. * Because I marinated in a baking pan with lid, I left the hen and marinade in that pan to roast it – that makes it easier to baste/brush it. Or you can arrange hen in baking pan, reserving the marinade that drips/falls off, for brushing/basting during roasting. If you didn’t brine the bird, sprinkle with salt.
  13. Place hen in oven, lowering heat to 375°F *.
  14. Roast hen about 90 minutes*, brushing/basting with reserved marinade every 30 minutes for the first hour (and adding stuffing after first 3o minutes), then brush/baste every 15 minutes after that (checking internal temp of thigh for doneness after 75 and 90 minutes as needed). However, I find my instant-read thermometer is not very accurate with this small bird, so I go by feel.
  15. Don’t forget to stir apple into stuffing, cover with lid/foil and place in oven with the bird after the first 30 minute check, then remove the foil cover at the next 30 minute check. Remove and keep warm at first 15 minute check (45 min in oven).

* Alternately, you can slow-roast with oven preheated to 3oo°F, then reduced to 250°F when you add the chicken and stuffing. Increase the oven to 350°F during the last 20 minutes to brown the bird. The hen will need to roast a total of  3 – 4 hours; I’m not sure about the stuffing, as I’ve not tested this recipe for slow-roasting yet.

Testing Nov 27-28, 2013

The stuffing recipe above is after adjustment for moisture (see Poultry Stuffing – Broth? Eggs? for testing of adjusted recipe on Dec 1, 2013). The following is the stuffing recipe tested 11/28/13 (before adjustment:

  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 small sprig fresh rosemary
  • ¼ small sweet onion, finely chopped
  • 1 stalk celery with leaves, finely chopped
  • 2 oz of croutons made with butter, with finely minced or ground rosemary & thyme (don’t use dried croutons)
  • 2 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted
  • ¼ tsp unrefined sea salt, or to taste
  • ½ garlic clove, freshly chopped
  • 1 Tbsp scallion, chopped coarsely
  • 2 Tbsp homemade Chicken Stock, or more as needed
  • 1 honey crisp or other apple, diced
  • Casserole dish
  1. Heat olive oil in skillet over medium heat. Add onion and celery and sauté until begins to soften. Melt the butter; add homemade croutons to skillet and pour melted butter over them; add garlic and rosemary and mix well. Cover skillet and lower heat and let warm to release liquids.  If stuffing is too dry (you want it moist but not wet), add a bit of chicken stock, but remember that the apples will add liquids too.
  2. Add apples just before stuffing the bird. If you plan to cook the stuffing in a separate casserole dish, don’t add apples yet.

Testing 11/27-28/2013 (with original dressing recipe, before I adjusted it):

Brined butterflied hen in salt and sugar for 3 hours. I had to add another Tbsp for the egg to float. After brining, I rinsed it and let it dry in fridge (uncovered) overnight. Made croutons with dried stale bread, which was a mistake because it would not pick up the butter and herbs. Next time, don’t use dried bread to make the croutons. The stuffing is too dry so I left it on low heat and covered with lid to generate some moisture. Also melted a cube of chicken stock (about 2 Tbsp) in case it is needed (otherwise can add to roasting chicken). I used ½ MacIntosh apple because I need to use them up. Prepared marinade without the red pepper since I didn’t have any, then brushed on the hen and placed in fridge at 2:30 PM, out of fridge to warm to room temp at 5, and into preheated oven at 5:30; reduced heat to 375°F . Basted at 6 PM, and put stuffing in oven. Basted again at 6:30 & covered stuffing. 6:45: basted, thigh only at 140 so increased heat to 400°F. Up to 160°F at 7:15. Took it and stuffing out at 7:30 (2 hours, total) even tho hen had not reached temperature (175 in thigh). Result: Hen was delicious but overcooked; I think my thermometer doesn’t work on game hens because there is so little meat on the bones. It was probably done at 7 (after 90 minutes). It was also a little too salty; I think I’ll stick with the original amount of salt in the brine. The stuffing was tasty but it too should have come out of oven at 7, as it got a bit too crispy.


  1. recipe:

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