Because Cornish hens are so petite, it means they are the perfect bird to air-fry whole. Thanks to the short cooking time (a smaller size hen will only take around 35 minutes!), the meat stays juicy while the skin gets nice and crispy. Each serving is one whole hen per person, which means it’s perfect for dinner parties. It’s also a quick and easy Thanksgiving turkey substitute if you’re thinking of a low-key celebration. Bonus for any scenario: No carving required!
What are Cornish Hens?
Cornish hens, also known as Rock Cornish game hens or Cornish game hens, are not actually game birds, nor are they all females! The name is given to a chicken that has been slaughtered at a younger age than the average chicken, which means they can weigh as little as one pound and are usually never more than about two pounds.
A Few Tips
Heat your air fryer for 10 minutes. After experimenting with different temperatures, I found air frying at 380 F in a preheated air fryer gave the best results, turning the skin a deep golden-brown without drying out the interior.
Adjust the cook time according to size. As the sizes of Cornish hens can differ from 1 to 2 pounds, the smaller size hen will only take around 35 minutes to air fry. If you air-fry a 2-pound Cornish hen, it can take up to 40 minutes. For larger hens, start checking the internal temperature at 35 minutes in the thickest part of the thigh.
A hack for repairing a tear in the skin covering the breast
Some Cornish hens are sold frozen or defrosted, which can damage the delicate breast skin. Some are even sold with tears. To fix this, thereby preventing the meat from drying out, pull the skin over the exposed area and use a toothpick to secure the skin in place. Or pull the skin over the exposed area and then cover the hen with a slice of bacon, securing the bacon in place with a toothpick under the hen. No tear? This recipe gives you the option to add the bacon regardless. Because, why not?
Air Fryer Cornish Hen
Serves 2 to 4
- 2 (1 to 1 1/4-pound) Cornish hens
- 1/2 small lemon
- 2 large sprigs fresh rosemary
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 3/4 teaspoon poultry seasoning, or 1/2 teaspoon ground sage plus 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
- 3/4 teaspoon garlic powder
- 3/4 teaspoon onion powder
- 3/4 teaspoon sweet paprika
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon granulated sugar
- 3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- 2 slices bacon (optional)
1. Pat two Cornish hens dry with paper towels, including behind the wings, legs, and inside the cavity. Place on a wire rack fitted over a large plate. Refrigerate uncovered for at least 1 hour, or up to overnight to dry the exterior and help create crispy skin.
2. Heat an air fryer to 380 F for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, prepare the following: Cut 1/2 small lemon in half again to create 2 quarters and remove any visible seeds. Cut 1 of the large rosemary sprigs in half crosswise. Place 1 teaspoon kosher salt, 3/4 teaspoon poultry seasoning, 3/4 teaspoon garlic powder, 3/4 teaspoon onion powder, 3/4 teaspoon paprika, 1/2 teaspoon black pepper, and 1/4 teaspoon granulated sugar in a small bowl and stir to combine.
3. Pat the Cornish hens dry again with paper towels. Rub 1 tablespoon of the olive oil on each hen, including the underside, wings, and thighs. Sprinkle 1/2 teaspoon of the spice mixture inside each the cavity of each hen. Sprinkle the outside of the hens with the remaining spice mixture, liberally rubbing the spices into the oil to create an even coating so that there are no spice clumps, which will burn in the air fryer. Place 1 lemon quarter and half a rosemary sprig inside each cavity. Wrap 1 slice bacon lengthwise over the center of each hen, and secure with a toothpick underneath, if using.
4. Brush the air fryer basket with a very thin layer of the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil, reserving the rest. Carefully place both hens in the air fryer basket breast-side down. If you have a small basket, alternate the direction of the hens, so they face each other to ensure they snugly fit in the basket. You may need to use tongs to arrange the hens in the basket. Drizzle any remaining olive oil over both hens.
5. Air fry for 20 minutes. Flip the hens and continue air frying until an instant-read thermometer registers 165 F in the thickest part of the thigh, 15 to 20 minutes more. Meanwhile, pick the leaves from the remaining large rosemary sprig and finely chop until you have about 1 teaspoon.
6. Transfer the Cornish hens from the air fryer with tongs to a large plate or clean cutting board. Let rest for 10 minutes. Discard any toothpicks and garnish with the chopped rosemary. Remove the lemon wedge from the cavity with a fork and carefully squeeze the juice over the Cornish hen if desired.
- Cornish hens can range from 1 pound to 2 pounds; for air frying, the smaller size (1 to 1 1/4 pounds) is better, as you can fit two hens in the basket. If you can only get the larger 2-pound Cornish hens (which can be shared between two people), the cooking time will be longer if cooking two larger hens at once (if they can fit in your basket). Start checking the internal temperature after 30 minutes. If you have an air fryer with a small basket, you may only be able to fit one 2-pound hen in at once.
- To serve a larger 2-pound hen to share, use kitchen shears to cut each hen in half down the breast bone and along the backbone.
- Leftovers can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to four days.