After many years of wanting to make cornish hen, I finally mustered up the courage to experiment. I figured that with the accompaniments I planned to serve, we would at least have other things to eat if the meat didn’t turn out right. Let me just say that I should have made this a looooong time ago!! The chicken was moist, full of flavor, and falling off the bones. My 10 year old would have probably eaten a whole cornish hen if I let him :).
NOTE: Please take a few minutes to read the recipe before deciding if it’s easy or too complicated based on the number of steps below. I’ve laid out everything step-by-step, hence the long write up. In honesty, the whole process is pretty straight-forward and relatively easy. The only hard thing in my opinion is having to wait about 24 hours before eating.
Oven Roasted Tandoori Cornish Hen
- 2 cornish hens – about 1 lb each (I buy the 4-packs from Costco)
- 2-3 Tbsp oil / butter
FOR THE BRINE:
- 32 oz buttermilk (about 4 cups)
- 4 bay leaves
- 1 cinnamon stick (broken)
- 8-10 whole cloves
- 4 black cardamom pods (moti elaichi) / 6 green cardamom pod
- 2-3 Tbsp salt (or more to taste)
1) Remove the plastic inserts from the cornish hens and wash inside & out thoroughly. Drain well.
2) Meanwhile, in a lidded container big enough to hold both birds, add all the brine ingredients and mix well. It should be on the saltier side, but don’t worry – the chicken will only absorb a little.
3) Gently immerse the hens into the brine, making sure that the brine fills the cavity and covers the whole bird. Cover the container and refrigerate overnight.
FOR THE MARINADE:
- 1/2 packet tandoori masala of choice (I mixed in a bit of red food coloring, but this is optional)
- 1 Tbsp ginger paste
- 1Tbsp garlic paste
- 1/2 cup yogurt
- 1-2 Tbsp lemon / lime juice
4) Next morning, mix all the marinade ingredients in a small bowl. Taste and adjust salt & lemon juice as needed.
5) Remove the chicken from the brine and pick away any whole spices sticking to it. Set aside on a plate and discard the remaining brine.
6) Evenly spread the chicken with the tandoori marinade, making sure to get under the skin and in the cavity*** (see note at bottom of post). (Do not slather the marinade on in thick layers as it will be doughy and bitter when cooked. Spread generously but evenly.)
7) Return to empty brine container and refrigerate for at least 6 hours. You can flip the bird over once or twice while marinating (optional), and return to the refrigerator.
TO COOK THE CHICKEN:
- 2-3 large red potatoes
- 1 medium green pepper (capsicum)
- 1-2 large red onion
- 1-2 Tbsp oil
- salt & pepper to taste
8) Remove chicken from the refrigerator and set at room temperature for about 30 minutes.
9) Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 375*F.
10) Chop the red potatoes, peppers & onion into large chunks and toss with oil, salt & pepper.
11) Place in the bottom of a roasting pan sprayed lightly with oil (you can line the pan with foil for easy cleanup).
12) Use twine to gently tie the chicken legs at the ‘ankles’ :)). Poke a toothpick through each wing into the breast meat to keep the wing from spreading & getting burnt while cooking. [Google “how to truss a chicken” for more info]
13) Place the hens on the roasting rack**(see note at bottom of post). Brush/spray lightly with oil or butter, and cover lightly with foil.
14) Bake for about 35-40 minutes covered. Remove the foil, baste with some remaining marinade, turn the roasting rack around, and bake for another 15-20 minutes. Watch closely to ensure that the meat does not turn dry. Chicken is done when the juices start to run clear.
15) Remove from the oven and gently drape the foil on the chicken (DO NOT SEAL). Let it rest for about 10 minutes before serving.
Serve with mint chutney and/or raita. For other accompaniments, check out my Desi Holiday Feast post.
NOTE: I don’t like poking holes in the chicken before marinating as I feel it lets the juices run out and dry the meat while cooking. You can do it if you prefer, but the cook times may need to be adjusted.
If you do not have a roasting rack to cook the cornish hen, you can crumple up aluminum foil or layer on root vegetables on the bottom of the tray to keep it away from the juices.