What To Serve With Cornish Hens

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Cornish hens are a delicious and versatile main dish that can be served on various occasions. However, choosing the right side dishes to complement the rich flavors of Cornish hens can be a bit challenging. In this article, we will explore different options for what to serve with Cornish hens, ranging from vegetable sides to starchy accompaniments. So, let’s dig in and discover the perfect pairings for this delectable poultry dish.

Understanding Cornish Hens

Before diving into the world of side dishes, it’s important to have a basic understanding of Cornish hens. These petite birds are a specific breed of chicken that originated in Cornwall, England. They are known for their succulent meat, tender texture, and rich flavor. Cornish hens are smaller in size compared to traditional chickens, making them perfect for individual servings.

The Origin of Cornish Hens

Cornish hens were initially bred in the early 20th century by crossing a Cornish gamecock with a White Rock hen. This combination resulted in a bird that combined the best traits of both breeds – the meatiness of the Cornish gamecock and the tenderness of the White Rock hen. Today, Cornish hens are widely popular due to their unique qualities and versatile cooking options.

The breeding of Cornish hens was not only a matter of taste and texture but also a response to the demand for smaller poultry. As urbanization increased and people started living in smaller spaces, the need for individual-sized portions of meat grew. Cornish hens provided the perfect solution, offering all the flavors and qualities of a full-sized chicken in a compact package.

Furthermore, the breeding process itself was a fascinating endeavor. Breeders carefully selected the Cornish gamecock and the White Rock hen for their specific characteristics. The Cornish gamecock, known for its muscular build and strong flavor, was chosen for its meatiness. On the other hand, the White Rock hen, with its tender and juicy meat, brought the desired tenderness to the breed. The result was a bird that not only satisfied the taste buds but also showcased the ingenuity and innovation of poultry breeders.

The Taste Profile of Cornish Hens

The meat of Cornish hens is exceptionally flavorful, with a hint of gaminess that sets it apart from regular chicken. It has a firm texture and a moistness that keeps the meat juicy when cooked properly. Due to their small size, Cornish hens cook relatively quickly and can be prepared in various ways, allowing you to experiment with different flavors and cooking techniques.

When it comes to cooking Cornish hens, the possibilities are endless. You can roast them with a simple herb rub, stuff them with a delicious filling, or even grill them for a smoky flavor. Their versatility allows you to get creative in the kitchen and explore different culinary traditions.

In addition to their taste and texture, Cornish hens also offer a visually appealing presentation. Their petite size makes them perfect for elegant dinner parties or special occasions. Placing a perfectly cooked Cornish hen on each plate adds a touch of sophistication and charm to any meal.

Whether you’re a seasoned chef or a home cook looking to experiment with new flavors, Cornish hens are a delightful addition to any culinary repertoire. Their unique qualities, rich history, and versatile nature make them a favorite among food enthusiasts around the world.

Preparing Cornish Hens

Before delving into the side dish options, let’s briefly touch upon the best methods for preparing Cornish hens.

When it comes to cooking Cornish hens, there are a variety of methods you can choose from, each offering its own unique flavors and textures. One popular method is roasting, which involves cooking the hens in the oven at a high temperature. This method not only enhances the natural flavors of the bird but also creates a crispy and golden skin that is irresistible. Another option is grilling, which imparts a smoky aroma and adds a delicious charred flavor to the hens. If you prefer a more tender and moist result, baking the hens is a great choice. This method allows the hens to cook slowly, ensuring that they remain juicy and flavorful.

Once you’ve decided on the cooking method, it’s time to think about seasoning and marinating the Cornish hens. The possibilities are endless when it comes to adding flavor to these small birds. You can keep it simple by using just salt, pepper, and a few aromatic herbs like rosemary and thyme. This classic combination enhances the natural taste of the hens without overpowering them. However, if you’re feeling adventurous, you can experiment with different spice blends and marinades to create a more complex and exciting flavor profile.

One popular seasoning option is to rub the hens with a mixture of olive oil, garlic, fresh herbs, and lemon zest. This combination not only adds a burst of citrusy flavor but also helps to keep the hens moist during cooking. The olive oil acts as a natural tenderizer, while the garlic and herbs infuse the hens with a savory and aromatic taste. If you have the time, marinating the hens before cooking can take their flavor to the next level. By combining the hens with a marinade of your choice and allowing them to sit in the refrigerator for a few hours or overnight, you can infuse them with additional moisture and a depth of flavor that perfectly complements the side dishes you choose to serve.

Choosing the Perfect Side Dishes

Now that we have covered the basics of Cornish hens, let’s move on to the exciting part – choosing the perfect side dishes. When selecting side dishes, there are a few factors you should consider to create a harmonious and well-rounded meal.

Factors to Consider When Choosing Side Dishes

Firstly, take into account the flavors and seasonings used in the main dish. If you have opted for bold and spicy flavors in the hens, consider serving milder side dishes to balance out the meal. For example, a refreshing cucumber salad or a creamy coleslaw can help cool down the palate after indulging in the fiery flavors of the hens. On the other hand, if the hens are prepared using a simple seasoning, feel free to experiment with bolder flavors and spices in your sides. A zesty garlic and herb roasted potato dish or a tangy lemon and thyme quinoa salad can add an extra layer of flavor to complement the simplicity of the hens.

Secondly, think about the texture and color of the side dishes. For example, if you have roasted the hens to achieve crispy skin, consider serving softer sides to provide a contrast in texture. Creamy mashed potatoes or buttery roasted vegetables can create a delightful contrast to the crispy exterior of the hens. Similarly, a variety of colors on the plate can make your meal more visually appealing and inviting. Consider incorporating vibrant vegetables like roasted carrots, sautéed green beans, or a colorful mixed salad to add a pop of color to your plate.

Popular Side Dishes for Cornish Hens

Now that you have a general idea of what to keep in mind while selecting side dishes, let’s explore some popular options that pair beautifully with Cornish hens.

1. Wild Rice Pilaf: The nutty and earthy flavors of wild rice perfectly complement the tender and juicy hens. Add some sautéed mushrooms and toasted almonds for an extra layer of richness and texture.

2. Roasted Brussels Sprouts: Roasting Brussels sprouts brings out their natural sweetness and creates a caramelized exterior. The slight bitterness of the sprouts pairs wonderfully with the savory hens.

3. Herbed Couscous: Light and fluffy, herbed couscous is a versatile side dish that can be easily customized to your taste. Add fresh herbs like parsley, mint, and dill for a burst of freshness.

4. Grilled Asparagus: The smoky and charred flavors of grilled asparagus provide a delightful contrast to the succulent hens. Drizzle some lemon juice and sprinkle Parmesan cheese for an extra touch of tanginess.

5. Garlic Butter Green Beans: Sautéed in garlic-infused butter, green beans become tender and flavorful. The aromatic garlic enhances the overall taste of the meal.

Remember, the key to choosing the perfect side dishes is to consider the flavors, textures, and colors that will complement and enhance the Cornish hens. With these factors in mind, you can create a memorable and delicious meal that will impress your guests.

Vegetable Sides for Cornish Hens

Vegetable sides are a fantastic addition to any Cornish hen meal. They provide freshness and vibrancy to your plate while adding a hint of healthiness. Here are a couple of options to consider:

Roasted Vegetable Options

Roasted vegetables are versatile and can be easily customized to suit your taste preferences. Consider roasting a medley of colorful bell peppers, zucchini, and cherry tomatoes with a drizzle of olive oil, salt, and pepper. The natural sweetness and charred flavors from the roasting process complement the richness of the hens perfectly.

When roasting vegetables, it’s important to cut them into similar sizes to ensure even cooking. You can also add some minced garlic or sprinkle some dried herbs like thyme or rosemary for an extra burst of flavor. The combination of the tender, caramelized vegetables with the succulent Cornish hens will create a mouthwatering symphony of tastes and textures.

Another option for roasted vegetables is to include root vegetables like carrots, parsnips, and sweet potatoes. These hearty vegetables provide a satisfying bite and a touch of natural sweetness. Toss them with some olive oil, salt, and a sprinkle of paprika for a smoky undertone. The roasted root vegetables will add depth and earthiness to your Cornish hen meal.

Fresh Salad Combinations

A fresh salad can add a refreshing element to a Cornish hen feast. Create a vibrant salad using mixed greens, sliced cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, and a zesty vinaigrette. You can also toss in some roasted nuts or crumbled goat cheese for added texture and richness.

For a Mediterranean twist, consider adding some kalamata olives, feta cheese, and a drizzle of lemon-infused olive oil. The tanginess of the olives and feta will balance the richness of the Cornish hens, while the lemon-infused olive oil will provide a bright and citrusy note.

If you prefer a more Asian-inspired salad, you can use shredded Napa cabbage, julienned carrots, and sliced snow peas. Toss them with a sesame ginger dressing and top with some toasted sesame seeds for a nutty crunch. The combination of the crisp vegetables and the savory dressing will complement the Cornish hens beautifully.

Remember, when preparing salads, it’s important to wash and dry the greens thoroughly to remove any dirt or grit. You can also add some fresh herbs like basil or cilantro for an aromatic touch. The possibilities for salad combinations are endless, so feel free to experiment and create your own unique twist!

Starchy Sides for Cornish Hens

To balance out the protein in the hens, starchy side dishes are an excellent choice. They provide substance and act as a hearty complement to the main dish. Here are a few ideas:

Potato-Based Side Dishes

Classic potato-based dishes like mashed potatoes or roasted potatoes are always a crowd-pleaser. You can elevate the flavors by incorporating garlic, fresh herbs, or even cheese. Another option is to prepare crispy potato wedges seasoned with your favorite spices and served with a dipping sauce of your choice.

Rice and Grain Sides

Rice and grain-based sides are a fantastic way to round out your meal. Consider serving aromatic pilaf, fluffy couscous, or flavorful quinoa alongside the hens. You can enhance the flavors by adding sautéed vegetables, dried fruits, or toasted nuts to the grains.


In conclusion, Cornish hens are a delightful main dish that can be paired with a wide range of side dishes. Whether you prefer fresh salads and roasted vegetables or hearty starches like potatoes or grains, there are plenty of options to explore. Remember to consider the flavors, textures, and colors when selecting your side dishes to create a perfectly balanced and visually appealing meal. So, get creative and enjoy the culinary journey of serving Cornish hens with delicious accompaniments!

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