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Roasted Butterflied Cornish Hens with White Wine Pan Sauce

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Serve up Roasted Butterflied Cornish Hens with White Wine Pan Sauce for a small scale holiday meal or cozy and intimate dinner. Crispy skin + fresh herbs make this incredibly flavorful.

pouring white wine pan sauce over roasted cornish hen

Roasted Butterflied Cornish Hens are Perfect for a Cozy Dinner

Maybe you’re doing the holidays big this year. If you’re not, this recipe is for you! Well, it’s for anyone, but mostly for folks who don’t want or need to roast a whole turkey or ham.

Small, cozy dinner for four? These Cornish hens will deliver everything you love about a roasted bird, but on a smaller, more manageable scale. (I’ve served these hens for a small Thanksgiving gathering to much delight…everyone gets both white and dark meat!)

Complete the dish with an easy white wine pan sauce made in the same roasting pan and clean up is a breeze!

platter for butterflied cornish hens and herbs

Ingredients for Roasted Butterflied Cornish Hens

In addition to pantry staples like olive oil, kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper, you’ll need:

  • Cornish hens — two hens will make four servings leaving plenty of room for sides and dessert! 
  • Fresh herbs — any mix of your favorite herbs will work. I use thyme, sage and parsley on the birds, and roast them on a bed of rosemary. 
  • Spices — garlic and onion powders.
  • Shallots — I love this little allium for elevated pan sauces.
  • Garlic — to add that heady aroma. 
  • White wine + chicken broth — you can’t have a sauce without a little liquid.
  • Unsalted butter — added to the sauce, it will make it smooth and rich.
  • Lemon — the birds roast on a bed of rosemary and lemon. These scent accumulated juices that you can add to the pan sauce for a little extra flavor.
ingredients for roasted butterflied cornish hens

How to Butterfly (or Spatchcock) a Game Hen

There’s nothing to it. If you’ve never done this before, a little hen is the best place to start.

  1. Place the hen on a cutting board, breast side down.
  2. With a sharp knife or pair of kitchen shears (my preferred tool for this job), begin cutting through the bird on either side of the back bone. If you are cutting through the ribs, it should cut away easily. Do this along both sides to remove the entire backbone. Cut the backbones into several smaller pieces and reserve for later to make the pan sauce.
  3. Lay the bird, skin side up and with the heel of your hand, press down the breast bone to flatten it. You should feel the bone/cartilage underneath give or hear a little pop.
backbone removed from a cornish hen with kitchen shears

Season + Roast The Cornish Game Hens

First, you’ll mix a seasoning blend with salt, pepper, garlic and onion. With some of this seasoning, you’ll create an herb blend with fresh minced herbs and olive oil.

Carefully separate the skin from the breast meat, being careful not to tear it. There’s a bit of tissue down the center of the breast bone — you can leave it intact for two separate channels, or cut through it. 

Life the skin up to expose the meat and stuff the cavity with half the herb blend. Repeat with the other hen.

herbs stuffed between the skin and breast of a cornish hen

Drizzle olive oil over the skin and rub it in, then season with some of the salt blend. Tuck the wing ends under the bird. Working with one hen at a time, brown the skin only in a large hot skillet (cast iron is great for this!) for 3 to 4 minutes. Take this opportunity to season the underside of the bird. Once golden, remove to a baking dish, skin side up, prepared with a bed of rosemary and lemon slices.

Roast in a 350°F oven for 45 to 50 minutes until the thickest part of the thigh reaches 165°F. Allow the hens to rest for 10 minutes or so before splitting in half to serve.

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How to Make White Wine Pan Sauce 

In the same skillet you seared the hens, add the chopped up back bones and saute until golden; remove and discard. Add the shallots to the pan and cook them until they become translucent and tender. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute. 

pieces of hen back bone sautéing in a skillet

Pour in the white wine and chicken broth all at once to deglaze the pan. Continue cooking to reduce the sauce by about half, stirring occasionally. If any juices have accumulated under the hens, add this to the sauce!

liquid being poured into a skillet with shallot and garlic

Take it off the burner and strain out the solids for a smooth sauce. Whisk in the butter. Taste and adjust the seasoning as needed. Add some chopped herbs to finish. 

Serving Roasted Cornish Hens + White Wine Pan Sauce

Transfer the hens to a clean cutting board. With a sharp knife, split each hen in half down the center of the breast bone. 

Rearrange them on a serving platter, or plate them on individual plates along with side dishes like Old Fashioned Dressing, French Onion Green Bean Casserole or simple and elegant Haricot Verts with Butter + Garlic.

Serve the white wine sauce in a bowl for guests to help themselves or pour a little over or around the hens before serving.

a platter of roasted butterflied cornish hens next to a pitcher of pan sauce

Common Questions about Making Roasted Cornish Hens

Can I roast the hens whole instead?

Sure! Aside from butterflying the birds, follow the other directions to add herbs and season the hens. You can still brown the birds in a skillet, but do both sides. Instead of setting the birds on top of the rosemary and lemon, stuff those ingredients inside the birds instead. Roast per the same instructions, but know that it may take a few minutes longer to finish cooking. Use a meat thermometer to know when to stop cooking — the thickest part of the thigh should register 165°F.

Do I have to use wine in the pan sauce?

Nope. Use all chicken broth if you prefer.

half a roasted butterflied cornish hen and green beans on a plate

More Recipes You Might Enjoy…

white wine pan sauce pouring over half a cornish hen

Roasted Butterflied Cornish Hens with White Wine Pan Sauce

Sip + Sanity | Linda Feller
Serve up Roasted Butterflied Cornish Hens with White Wine Pan Sauce for a small scale holiday meal or cozy and intimate dinner.
Prep time.20 minutes
Cook time.55 minutes
Custom time.10 minutes
Total time.1 hour 25 minutes
Course.Main Course
Cuisine.American
Number of servings.4 people
Calories per serving.687 kcal

Equipment

Ingredients

  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • ¼ teaspoon fresh cracked black pepper
  • ¼ teaspoon garlic powder
  • ¼ teaspoon onion powder
  • 4 tablespoon fresh mixed herbs, finely chopped, divided
  • 1 lemon, sliced
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil, divided, plus more for oiling the hens' skin
  • 2 cornish hens, rinsed + patted dry
  • 4 sprigs fresh rosemary
  • 2 tablespoon shallots, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • ½ cup white wine
  • ½ cup chicken broth
  • 2 tablespoon unsalted butter

Instructions

  • Combine kosher salt, black pepper, onion + garlic powder in a small bowl. 
  • Transfer 1/4 tsp of salt mixture into another small bowl, then add to it 3 tbsp of the chopped herbs and 1-1/2 tsp of olive oil.
  • Place the hen on a cutting board, breast side down. With a sharp knife or pair of kitchen shears (my preferred tool for this job), begin cutting through the bird on either side of the back bone. If you are cutting through the ribs, it should cut away easily.
    cutting the backbone away from a cornish hen
  • Do this along both sides to remove the entire backbone. Reserve the back bone and cut into smaller pieces for making pan sauce later.
    backbone removed from a cornish hen with kitchen shears
  • Lay the bird, skin side up and with the heel of your hand, press down the breast bone to flatten it. You should feel the bone/cartilage underneath give or hear a little pop.
    hand pressing down on butterflied cornish hen
  • Separate the skin from the breast meat. Stuff half of the herb mixture between the skin and breast meat. Repeat with the other other hen. Rub olive oil all over the skin of the birds and season with the reserved salt mixture.
  • Preheat oven to 350°F. On a baking tray, create an x with rosemary, and add some lemon slices. Set aside.
  • Place a large skillet over a medium burner. Add 1-1/2 tsp olive oil. Working with one a time, place a hen, skin side down in the skillet and allow to brown for 3 to 4 minutes. Take this opportunity to season the inside of the bird with the salt mixture.
  • Place each hen, skin side up, on top of one of the rosemary x's. Point the legs to the outside ends of the tray. Roast for 45 to 50 minutes or until the thickest part of the thigh registers 165°F.
    seared cornish hen laying on bed of rosemary and lemon slices
  • While the hens roast, make the pan sauce. To the same skillet, add the cut up neck bones and sauté for about 5 minutes over medium heat. Remove from the pan and discard.
  • Add the shallots and cook until tender and translucent. Next, add the garlic and cook for another minute. Add the white wine and chicken broth all at once to deglaze the skillet. Allow it to simmer and reduce by half. 
  • Into a bowl or small pitcher, pour the sauce through a fine mesh strainer to remove all the solids. Then add butter and stir to melt. Taste for seasoning and toss in the remaining tablespoon of fresh chopped herbs.
  • When the birds are done roasting, allow them to rest for at least 5 minutes. Split each hen in half straight down the breastbone. You can whisk any accumulated juices from the baking tray to your pan sauce.

Nutrition

Calories: 687kcal | Carbohydrates: 4g | Protein: 49g | Fat: 49g | Saturated Fat: 15g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 8g | Monounsaturated Fat: 22g | Trans Fat: 1g | Cholesterol: 301mg | Sodium: 868mg | Potassium: 786mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 1g | Vitamin A: 826IU | Vitamin C: 17mg | Calcium: 53mg | Iron: 3mg
Keywords.chicken, holidays, oven, stove top, thanksgiving
Did You Make This Recipe?Be sure to share a comment below!

This recipe is part of Sip + Sanity’s 2021 Thanksgiving Menu that includes recipes for brunch, cocktail hour and the main event. Check it out for make-ahead tips and the timeline!

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4 Comments

    1. 5 stars
      I’d never cooked a Cornish hen before this evening (Christmas eve!) and it was a special dinner as my son’s first real girlfriend was joining us! It all turned out beautifully!! All four game hens looked appetizing on the plate and were delicious to the taste! I served it with wild rice and grilled asparagus and a few small potatoes that cooked with the hens. This made a truly memorable dish for a very special and festive occasion! Thank you!

  1. What a lovely dish. Thank you for sharing for sharing this recipe. I really enjoy Cornish Hens. I may have to edit some things due to dietary restrictions but overall this sounds wonderful to enjoy with my family. ☺️

    Pastor Natalie
    Letstakeamoment.com