Make a quick skillet cornbread with maple butter while herb-rubbed Cornish hens roast.
Herb-rubbed roast Cornish hens give you that home-cooked goodness of roast chicken, but with a faster cook time and a fancy touch. You can bake this quick and easy skillet cornbread, and make the maple butter, and wash all the dishes, in the time the hens bake. Steam a veggie or make a salad to complete dinner.
It was important to me for this recipe to have the same oven temperature for the Cornish hens and the cornbread. Most of us don’t have two ovens. (If you do, I’m jealous!) You could make the cornbread in advance and then roast the hens later, but the cornbread is really best straight out of the oven. I wanted to be able to make both at the same time and have them be done at the same time, which requires the same oven temperature.
My normal method for roast chicken, as seen in this recipe, is to blast the heat at 450, getting super crispy golden brown skin. Roasting the Cornish hens at 400 for me is almost like slow-roasting. The skin on the Cornish hens doesn’t get crispy like the chicken does in my Engagement Chicken recipe. Think of these Cornish hens more like a falling-off-the-bone tender rotisserie chicken.
If you want to use a chicken instead of a Cornish hen, at 400 degrees, I would increase the cook time from the recommended 50 minutes to 1 hour for the Cornish hen to 1 ½ – 2 hours for a 5-6 pound chicken.
Cornbread is a great side for roast poultry. Like a true New England girl, I love my maple syrup. Last week, in my recipe for Maple Pecan Salmon with Individual Potato Gratins, I wrote a little about how maple is being branded as the new fall flavor, when it’s actually made around this time of year. No complaints though. I’m happy to eat maple any time of year, for sure.
I used some maple sugar in this cornbread to add a little maple flavor, but you can substitute regular white sugar if you’d like. The cornbread is just slightly sweet, not very sweet. But I love topping it with maple butter. Hot tip: if you have any leftover cornbread, spread some maple butter over it and microwave it for about 20 seconds so the butter melts into the cornbread – it’s so good.
Here are the main ingredients for the Cornish hens. I find one hen can feed two people, so this recipe serves four. Even with the lower oven temperature, I basically gave the hens the same treatment as the chicken in my Engagement Chicken because I really enjoy chicken, or Cornish hen, or any poultry, with those flavors. That means I stuffed the cavities with lemon, garlic cloves, and herb sprigs. I mixed thyme, sage, and marjoram with canola oil and salt and pepper, then rubbed it all over the hens.
Here they are ready to bake. (I threw a gizzard into the roasting pan too because I like those.)
Next up are the cornbread ingredients.
So, here’s a secret that may take away any culinary authority I have. I never buy buttermilk. I don’t want to buy a whole carton to use 1 cup for a recipe. Contrary to what you may believe, I am not making us fluffy buttermilk pancakes every morning. So I make a buttermilk substitute by mixing a couple teaspoons of vinegar with regular 2% milk.
Also pictured are maple sugar, eggs, yellow cornmeal, butter, flour, and in that small bowl mixed together: baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
This is a very simple quick bread. Mix the dry ingredients.
Mix the wet ingredients in a separate mixing bowl, then mix in with the dry. As all recipes for this type of thing will warn you, do NOT overmix.
I melted some butter in the skillet, which greases the pan and forms a nice crust on the bottom of the cornbread. Pour in the batter and bake.
If your cornbread is done before the Cornish hens are ready, may I recommend it as an appetizer?
Here is the maple butter, which only takes a few minutes. When it cools, it will get harder to almost the consistency of regular refrigerated butter. The maple butter is the one part of this recipe that is really not optional, trust me. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to double the recipe, so you have extra for toast, oatmeal, ice cream, teriyaki sauce, etc.
(True story: A couple months ago, I made baked maple doughnuts. I had leftover maple glaze which I kept in the fridge. One night I was making a salmon recipe for dinner that had honey in the recipe for the sauce. Instead of honey, I substituted that leftover maple doughnut glaze. Great decision.)
As always, I am thrilled if you make any part of my recipes. Mix and match as you please. Make the cornbread by itself or with another main course, or make the Cornish hen with your favorite sides. Enjoy!
Roast Cornish Hens with Maple Butter Skillet Cornbread
- 2 (2 - 2 1/2 pound) Cornish game hens
- 1 lemon, cut in half
- 4 cloves garlic
- 2 sprigs each of thyme, sage, and marjoram
- 2 tablespoons canola oil
- 2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
- 2 teaspoons finely chopped sage leaves
- 2 teaspoons chopped marjoram leaves
- 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 cup 2% milk
- 2 teaspoons vinegar (white, apple cider, or rice all work)
- 5 tablespoons butter, divided
- 1 1/4 cup yellow cornmeal
- 1 cup flour
- 3 tablespoons maple sugar (or use 1/4 cup regular sugar)
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 2 eggs, beaten
- 4 tablespoons salted butter
- 3 tablespoons maple syrup
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
- Remove giblets from hens and set aside for another use or discard. (I put the ones I like in the roasting pan with the hens.) Pat hens dry with paper towels. Place hens in a baking dish, breast side up.
- Stuff the cavity of each hen with ½ of a lemon, 2 garlic cloves, and 1 sprig of each herb. Tie the legs together with cooking twine.
- In a small bowl, mix oil, thyme leaves and chopped herbs, kosher salt, and pepper. Rub all over the hens.
- Transfer to oven and roast for 50 minutes - 1 hour. (While the hens are baking, make the cornbread.) Rotate the baking dish at the halfway point. To check if the hens are done: Check the temperature in the inside part of the thigh, between the leg and the breast, for an internal temperate of 165 degrees. If you don’t have a thermometer, poke the meat in this spot with a knife to check juices run clear. Let rest 10 minutes before carving.
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees (if not already on from making the Cornish Hens.)
- Mix milk and vinegar in a measuring cup. Let stand for a few minutes while you prepare the dry ingredients.
- Melt 4 tablespoons butter in a small bowl in the microwave. Then let sit out to cool slightly.
- In a large mixing bowl, mix together cornmeal, flour, maple sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
- In a medium mixing bowl, mix together the milk and vinegar mixture and the eggs.
- Wait until you have 30 minutes left on the Cornish hens’ bake time to continue, if you’d like both to be done around the same time. (Otherwise go ahead, the cornbread will be a good snack while you’re waiting for the hens to finish cooking.)
- Add the 4 tablespoons melted butter to the mixing bowl with the wet ingredients and stir to mix. Pour wet ingredients into dry ingredients and stir until combined. Do not overmix. It’s okay if there are still some streaks of flour or cornmeal.
- Heat a 10 inch cast iron skillet over medium heat. Melt remaining 1 tablespoon butter in the skillet, and turn so butter coats the entire bottom of the skillet. Carefully pour batter into the skillet. Turn off stove and transfer skillet to oven. Bake 17-20 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. While cornbread is baking, make the maple butter.
- Add butter and maple syrup to a small saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Turn heat to medium-low and boil until thickened, about 5 minutes. Stir very well. Pour out into a bowl and transfer to the fridge to firm up before serving.