Roasted Cornish hens with breadcrumb salsa is based on a Chez Panisse recipe, so you know that it’s going to be good. Halved hens get roasted and then topped with umami-packed breadcrumbs that are seasoned with capers, anchovies, scallions, and herbs.
The success of the dish depends upon the best-quality homemade French or Italian coarse-textured bread crumbs; you simply can’t use store-bought bread crumbs. To toast the crumbs, place them on a baking sheet in a 350°F (175°C) oven, turning occasionally, until done, 10 to 15 minutes.—Joanne Weir
Roasted Cornish Hens with Breadcrumb Salsa FAQs
What is a Cornish hen?
Commonly thought to be a game hen, they’re actually not. Cornish hens are really just young birds (about five weeks) from a rather small breed of chicken, called the Indian Game. Not so exotic, after all. The breed was specifically created to be tender and small, which they truly are.
Can I make bread crumb salsa ahead of time?
You can! Sort of. The bread crumbs and vinaigrette can be made earlier in the day and combined just before serving.
What wine should I serve with roasted Cornish hens?
Sparkling wine, Chardonnay, or Pinot noir are all suggested by the author as perfect companions to this elegant dish.
Roasted Cornish Hens with Breadcrumb Salsa
- 6 Cornish hens halved (1 to 1 1/2 pounds [454 to 680 g] each)
- 7 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
- 1 cup toasted coarse bread crumbs
- 1/4 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley leaves
- 1 scallion white and green parts, thinly sliced
- 2 anchovy fillets soaked in cold water for 2 minutes, patted dry, and chopped
- 1 tablespoon capers chopped
- 1 tablespoon lemon zest preferably organic
- 1 garlic clove minced
- 1/2 teaspoon chopped thyme leaves
- 1/2 teaspoon chopped rosemary leaves
- Preheat the oven to 450°F (230°C).
- Arrange the hen halves in a single layer, skin side up, on a baking sheet. Brush the skin with 1 tablespoon of olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
- Roast the hens until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh registers 170°F (76°C), 30 to 35 minutes.
- Meanwhile, in a bowl, whisk the vinegar and remaining 6 tablespoons olive oil together. Add the bread crumbs, parsley, scallion, anchovies, capers, lemon zest, garlic thyme, and rosemary and toss together. Season with salt and pepper.
- Remove the hens to a platter, top with the toasted bread crumb mixture, and serve immediately.
Recipe Testers’ Reviews
I didn’t expect to like this so much. It seemed like just roast hens with a topping. But what a topping! Roasting the hens couldn’t have been easier. It was also a cinch to toss together the topping. As soon as I topped the hot roasted hens with the bread crumbs the aromas sprang to life. Each bite was a combination of crispy, juicy hen and savory, herby topping. A simple weeknight dinner made special.
The last time I fooled around with Cornish game hens was a decade ago. I swore a blood oath it was my last foray into that particular culinary territory. I noticed our supermarket now has fresh game hens that look a lot more appetizing than the old frozen solid versions that were ubiquitous in most grocery stores’ deep, deep freeze section.
Preparation of the hens themselves was basic. The salsa transformed them. The way it interacted with the roasted hens reminded me of the way gremolata changes the flavor of osso buco. While I’m not an anchovy aficionado, I’ve learned that they can subtly flavor certain dishes in such a way that a person might not be able to pick out their presence, but their absence would be missed. My husband, for example, loved the salsa, but was quite surprised to learn it contained anchovies. I’d make the salsa again to serve with grilled steaks or salmon, as suggested by the author.
Originally published February 12, 2004