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The Difference Between Chicken And Cornish Hen (And How to Enjoy Both)

There are a lot of misunderstandings and misrepresentations about what Cornish hens are and what they aren’t. For starters, Cornish hens are chicken, but the comparison isn’t quite as straightforward as it sounds. 

January 22, 2019

Specifically, Cornish chickens are a breed from England. The female chickens, called ‘hens,’ aren’t known as skilled egg-producers, so they are generally bred for their meat. Yet, despite simply being a kind of chicken, there are still some marked differences between Cornish hens and the chicken we are most often used to eating. Let’s investigate.

Size

The first and most notable difference is the size of Cornish hens, which are generally around one to two pounds. When served, a Cornish hen is typically offered as an individual portion.

Texture

Cornish hens are butchered younger, which tends to make their meat more tender than chickens when cooked.

Nutrition

Cornish hens’ adolescence also contributes to a lower fat content. Since they are comprised of primarily white meat, Cornish hens are very lean and rich in niacin, which can help lower cholesterol and boost brain function.

Taste

To most people, the taste gap between Cornish hen and chicken is negligible. While some think chicken has a stronger flavor, others maintain that you can’t tell a difference. The conclusion: You’ll have to try each one for yourself to determine which side you land on.

That said, the biggest difference between Cornish hens and chicken is how they are served. Since the hens are so small, they can make an appealing dinner presentation when prepared as an individual entrée. Or, if you’re hosting an event with multiple sides, Cornish hens are easily split in half — either before or after cooking — thanks to their soft bones.

The Best Ways to Prepare Cornish Hen

While chicken offers countless preparation options, your best bet when cooking Cornish hen is roasting. Since they’re so much smaller than your typical whole chicken, it’s actually easier to roast a hen and achieve the ideal combination: both fully cooked meat and crispy skin. And of course, a full Cornish hen roasts significantly faster than a whole chicken, with most hens only needing 20 to 25 minutes in a 450-degree oven.

For seasonings, try similar combinations that you would use with chicken: garlic and herbs, lemon and butter, or olive oil and rosemary. Your dinner guests will enjoy the elegance of being served a full miniature bird on their plates.

The Versatility of Chicken

Chicken, on the other hand, is significantly more versatile. Easily portioned out into breasts, thighs or legs, chicken can be baked, sautéed, grilled, slow-cooked, pressure-cooked, roasted, broiled, poached or even cooked sous vide. The possibilities are endless.

However, if you’d like to add a little elegance to your dinner table (without alienating picky eaters), Cornish hens are the perfect compromise. To start, try this recipe for Roasted Cornish Hens with Fresh Figs and Rosemary, developed by Market House James Beard award-winning chef, Tim McKee.

Find antibiotic-free, non-GMO Cornish Hens for your next dinner party here.

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