Having trouble deciding which type of poultry to buy for your next formal event? Even if you have it narrowed down to Cornish game hen vs chicken, it can be tough to make that final call. Here, we’ll provide you with a side-by-side comparison to make it easier.
Cornish Game Hen vs Chicken
Cornish game hens are small chickens that are slaughtered after a lifespan of just 5 to 6 weeks. They’re typically more expensive than regular chickens, and are often served at fancy events. However, there’s not that much of a flavor difference between the two. Cornish hens are also far less versatile than regular chickens.
About Cornish Game Hens
Just what exactly is a Cornish game hen, anyway? Is it really all that different from a regular chicken?
In fact, a Cornish game hen is a type of chicken, so it has plenty in common with the small roasters that are typically sold at the butcher counter. But there are key differences as well, which is one of the reasons why we’ve put together this guide.
A Cornish game hen is a cross-breed between two species known as White Rock and Cornish. It may also called a poussin, which is a French term for chickens weighing in below 1-1/2 pounds. Other aliases include Rock Cornish hen and, simply, Cornish hen.
As the French nickname suggests, these specimens are on the small side. They usually weigh between 1 and 2 pounds, though they might come in a bit larger. As such, you should plan on buying one for every diner on your guest list when you’re serving Cornish hens.
Despite the fact that the birds are all referred to as hens, both male and female specimens are available. Cornish game hen is considered a fancier alternative to regular chicken, especially in North America.
Cornish Game Hen vs Chicken: Breaking it Down
This is the most obvious difference between Cornish hens and standard chickens. A whole chicken should be enough to serve 2 to 4 people, perhaps more. Meanwhile, a Cornish game hen is typically considered to be a single serving.
To give you some idea of the difference, a regular chicken weighs around 3-6 pounds. As we’ve established, a Cornish hen might weigh no more than a pound.
The difference isn’t just due to the fact that Cornish hens are bred to be smaller. They’re also slaughtered at a younger age—just 5 to 6 weeks, versus the 3 to 5 months of life that’s standard for chickens.
It’s possible to find whole chickens for sale at just $1 per pound, though $2.75 to $3.50 per pound is more common. But you can expect Cornish game hens to command prices between $3 and $5 per pound.
Though Cornish hens are seen as a sophisticated alternative to boring old chicken, the average diner isn’t bound to notice a difference between the two, at least in terms of flavor (see below). In essence, you’re paying more for the elegant presentation.
The word “game” might mislead diners into thinking that these birds are more exotic than standard chickens. They might even assume that they have a rich, gamy texture as a result.
In truth, Cornish hens are just a specialized breed of chicken, and one that has a reputation for elegance and sophistication. Because they’re younger, you might notice that the meat is especially juicy and tender. But the basic taste is the same.
Whenever possible, purchase Cornish game hens with the skin on. Some processors will remove the skin, but the meat is far more succulent and tasty when the skin is still in place.
One other point we should make is that the smaller birds take well to marinades and sauces. A higher ratio of surface area is exposed to the seasonings, so the meat might taste more flavorful as a result.
All poultry can be considered a good source of protein. Chicken is also high in niacin, as well as vitamins A, B, and D.
Since Cornish hens are slaughtered so young, they don’t have as much fat on the meat as older chickens do. As a result, they’re also lower in calories. There’s a higher proportion of white meat to dark meat as well.
In this category, regular chicken is the clear winner. Cornish hens can only be sold whole, or perhaps halved if the specimens are larger. That limits your options as far as serving is concerned.
A whole chicken, meanwhile, can be served as the centerpiece to a fancy dinner or an afternoon picnic. You can roast or smoke the meat and then use it to make salads, sandwiches, or soups. In fact, there are far too many possibilities to list here.
There’s also the issue of pricing to consider. Cornish game hens are expensive enough that most shoppers would think twice about buying them to make sandwiches or tacos. Regular chickens yield more meat and offer a better bang for your buck overall.
Thanks to its mild flavor and tender texture, chicken can be prepared in a number of ways.
You can roast chicken in the oven, smoke it over a charcoal fire, or braise it on the stove top. The meat can be grilled, broiled, pan-seared, or baked. What’s more, you can divide a whole chicken into parts and serve them individually.
Cornish game hens don’t offer the same luxuries. When you choose this option, you’re pretty much stuck with roasting it for about an hour at 425 degrees, then serving it whole.
You can experiment with the smoker for Cornish hens if you’d prefer. But the young, tender flesh might be overwhelmed by too much smoke flavor. If you go this route, keep that in mind when selecting your smoking wood.
Poultry is considered safe to eat when it’s cooked to 165 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s our recommended temperature for Cornish game hens, since the white meat makes up the bulk of the serving.
However, whole chickens are a different story. The breast is done at 165, but the legs and thighs should be allowed to cook to 180 before you take them off the heat. Otherwise, they might have a chewy, stringy texture.
Remove Cornish hens from the oven when they’ve cooked to an internal temperature of 160 degrees, then let them rest for 10 to 15 minutes. This resting time should carry the temp up to 165.
If the chicken breast is done before the dark meat hits the target temp, remove the bird from the heat and carve away the breast portion. Tent the meat with foil and let it rest while you return the drumsticks and thighs to the heat to finish cooking.
Can You Substitute One For The Other?
In some cases, you might be able to get away with the swap. If there’s a marinade or spice rub that you enjoy using on whole chickens, for example, feel free to apply it to your game hens as well. You should be pleased with the results.
Similarly, try substituting Cornish game hens for a full roast chicken at your next dinner party. The presentation will be impressive, and portion control will be a breeze. Just be sure not to overcook the meat.
On the other hand, if the recipe calls specifically for Cornish game hens, it’s not a good idea to use a regular chicken instead. Most of these recipes take the smaller size of the bird into account, so you might wind up with undercooked poultry.
Despite their lofty reputation, there’s nothing particularly exotic about Cornish game hens.
They make for an eye-catching centerpiece, and the meat is exceptionally moist and tender if it’s prepared right. But otherwise, they’re just smaller versions of the chickens we all know and love.