Grilled Cornish Game Hens: Three Marinades for a Crowd or for One

26 Dec

Ah the illusions of youth!

Rock Cornish Game Hens were such a fancy thing to eat when I was little. They were so cute and golden when they came out of the oven; a half a bird each for me and my brother, and one each for our parents, basted in a peach sauce that was lovely and sweet. (Keep reading for Puerto Rican, Greek and Mesquite marinades!)

These little birds, almost invariably sold frozen into hand-held cannonballs, seemed to me to be an exotic species (don’t laugh, those of you from Cornwall) and having been an eager reader of all things Annie Oakley and Laura Ingalls Wilder, and other tough girl survivor books in the days before Katniss Everdeen and I imagined that these little birds were hunted by young folks with charming accents, roaming the plains of Cornwall (do you even have plains in Cornwall?) in home-made clothes, with rifles or intriguing traps or somesuch.

Itty bitty

Itty bitty

As it turns out, Cornish Game Hens do actually trace part of their heritage back to a Cornish hen,  so I will cling determinedly to the exotic part of my fantasy.

Mortar Mash...making the marinade

Mortar Mash…making the marinade

The Rock bit, does not, as I thought when I was younger, refer to the rock-hard frozen state in which they were sold, but to the other lineage that makes them: the rock hen. The rest, however, is nonsense. There is nothing gamey about these birds and they don’t even necessarily have to be hens!

Kitchen scissors make splitting these birds easy work!

Kitchen scissors make splitting these birds easy work!

They are very young domestic birds (five weeks) that are fed abundantly (but not force fed) so they quickly plump up to a market-size of 1.5-2 lbs. They may be male or female.

What container do you use for marinating; I need to wean my folks off the freezer bags for sustainability reasons...

What container do you use for marinating; I need to wean my folks off the freezer bags for sustainability reasons…

But never mind the disillusion; I got over it as soon as we had them on the grill for Christmas dinner (regular readers will know that my dad will grill anything). We did different marinades for each of the three birds and they were all very good (I confess to preferring the Greek yogurt one).

Grill, baby, grill

Grill, baby, grill

IMPORTANT NOTE TO SINGLETONS and single parents with little kids: If you crave roast chicken, but don’t have anyone else large or interested to eat it with, one Rock Cornish Game Hen is your answer. It will fit in the toaster oven and is just the right size for one big eater or a parent and child or a single dinner and then cold chicken lunch the next day. More on that soon.



Grilled Cornish Game Hens With Three Different Marinades (Southwest, Criollo, and Greek)

(factor in a day or two of defrosting in the fridge, and 3-8 hours of marinating time)

Each of these marinades will season one Cornish Game Hens or small chicken (1.5-2 lbs)

The birds must be patted dry and split, but it is up to you whether you want the skin on or off. The skin burns rather quickly, so be attentive! I will give you the three marinades first, followed by cooking instructions, which are the same for all.

Gallinita Criolla (Puerto Rican style seasoning)

2 cloves garlic            

10 peppercorns

1 tsp oregano

½ tsp salt

2 tsp olive oil

In a mortar and pestle, grind all the ingredients except the olive into a paste. Add the olive oil, combine, and season the split bird inside and out, getting under the skin if you are leaving the skin on. Place in Ziploc bag or other sealable refrigerator-safe container for 3-8 hours.

Mesquite Marinade (uses a commercial powder as the base)

2 Tbs McCormick Grill Mates Mesquite Marinade (or similar)

2 Tbs olive oil

1/8 Cup water

Mix all ingredients in a sealable refrigerator safe container. Add hen and season all over, including under the skin. Refrigerate for 3-8 hours

Greek Yogurt Marinade

2 cloves garlic

10 peppercorns

1 tsp dry oregano or 2 tsp fresh

½ tsp salt

½ Cup yogurt (non-fat is fine; nonfat Greek is really good)

2 tsp lemon or lime juice

1 Tbs honey

In a mortar and pestle grind the garlic, peppercorns, oregano and salt into a paste. In a bowl or cup, add paste to yogurt, juice and honey and mix well. Use the yogurt mix to thoroughly coat the bird, including under the skin. Place in a sealable refrigerator-safe container for 3-8 hours.


Heat grill to 400°F (you may grease the grill with a bit of cooking spray or brush with oil before heating). Lay bird(s) on grill, lower heat to about 350°F (if you can control your grill; otherwise you have to wing it (pun very much intended!) and cover. The idea is that they cook slowly enough to retain tenderness and moisture, but still cook through in 45 minutes or so. Cooking times will really vary depending on your grill. Use a meat thermometer; it should read 165°F when it/they are done.


Do not split the bird, but leave whole. Bake in a 375°F oven for about an hour, basting after 30 minutes. Use a meat thermometer; it should read 165°F when it/they are done.

Christmas Day Dinner

Christmas Day Dinner


17 Responses to “Grilled Cornish Game Hens: Three Marinades for a Crowd or for One”

  1. The Belmont Rooster December 22, 2013 at 11:11 am #

    Wow! That looks so good! Thanks for the recipes!

  2. Eha December 21, 2013 at 10:52 pm #

    Don’t think the size of the bird really matters, but that yogurt marinade is great and will be used ! Yum at Christmas and way after 🙂 !

  3. Rufus' Food and Spirits Guide December 21, 2013 at 1:52 pm #

    I’m glad you reposted this one. I didn’t recall it and it looks like such a great idea!

  4. Monte Temple December 21, 2013 at 12:02 pm #

    Natalia: My guess, if you keep this up, is going to take you to the stars. You have a down to earth approach and a warmth emanating from your prose like no other on the market today. Don’t change a thing! Monte PS Feliz Navidad!

  5. Natalia at Hot, Cheap & Easy December 21, 2013 at 8:30 am #

    Reblogged this on Hot, Cheap & Easy and commented:

    Note to Readers: This reblog is to help remind my family what we did with the hens the last time, as they are a contender for Christmas Day dinner this year! So nice, we had to make them twice….

  6. Karen December 30, 2012 at 5:24 pm #

    The hens look like they were delicious….I think I would go with the yogurt marinated one. Yogurt usually makes poultry tender and moist.

  7. magentmama December 28, 2012 at 10:25 am #

    I saw these hens in the supermarket near mouse here in Trapani but had no idea how to cook them. Now I know. Thank you!

  8. Conor Bofin December 28, 2012 at 8:21 am #

    Hi Natalia, they look excellent. I suspect I could manage two…

  9. Mad Dog December 27, 2012 at 11:25 am #

    Sadly I don’t think they come from Cornwall – they would appear to be an American invention:
    Cornwall doesn’t have plains, but it does have a lot of moorland, cliffs and beautiful beaches. I’ve shot a lot of real game birds down there.
    I love what you’ve done to your hens – great recipes 🙂

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