Did you know that you can air fry Cornish hens? Using the rotisserie function on your air fryer, it's easy to cook whole Cornish hens! With my air fryer Cornish hens recipe, you'll have an impressive entrée ready in under an hour. There's just something special about the presentation of a whole (or half) Cornish hen on a plate. It's not your everyday chicken recipe!
Hi, everybody! There's a chill in the air in my neck of the woods. Let's take a seat by the fire, shall we?
Longtime New Englanders that we are, we fully expect these seasonal changes that are taking place. The shed is full of wood for the woodstove. It should be enough to last us a good long time.
Chilly days call for warm, comforting food, wouldn't you agree? One of my favorite things about autumn is the change from the fresh meals of summer to more cozy dishes. Around here, we've moved from in-season berries to ripe apples and root vegetables.
Soups, stews, apple crisp, and roast dinners are all calling my name right now. For the first time in several months, I've started roasting whole chickens again and making bone broth for soup.
I've also created this delicious air fryer Cornish hen recipe. It's special, and pretty much the perfect comfort food.
With an air fryer rotisserie, you'll get a Cornish chicken with crisp, golden skin and juicy, tender meat. It is perfect served over your favorite mashed veggie. What more could you want from your dinner?
My introduction to Cornish game hens
I first came across the Cornish hen in an edition of Betty Crocker's Cookbook for Boys & Girls from the 1970s. I had never had a Cornish hen at that point. However, the idea of these single-serve chickens in their "Little Brown Hens" recipe intrigued me.
This recipe was part of a suggested menu in the book for an entire Mother's Day feast. I don't believe I ever got the chance to put this meal together as a child. However, this recipe remained tucked in my mind when I decided to air fry Cornish hens for the website.
Taking inspiration from this well-loved cookbook from childhood, I brushed the hens with a little butter and soy sauce. The butter helps the Cornish hen skin crisp, and the soy sauce adds a touch of umami.
It's simple, but sometimes simple is all you need to get a fantastic dish. I'm all for doing less work to make dinner if it doesn't sacrifice results.
Why you should make Cornish hens in the air fryer
I think you'll find many benefits to serving Cornish game hens for dinner. Here are a few of my top reasons for loving this Cornish hen air fryer recipe:
- No unwanted leftovers: Roasting a whole, large chicken simply makes too much food for some small families. If you don't have the freezer or fridge space, you may not want the chicken leftovers. Cornish game hens are much smaller birds; you're far less likely to end up with leftovers hanging around.
- Even cooking: You can make Cornish hens in the oven. However, using the rotisserie spit on an air fryer helps to ensure your hen is evenly cooked. The skin will be browned and crispy on all sides, not just the top of the chicken.
- Makes a special meal: Serving Cornish hen always feels a bit more special than serving a dish of regular (larger) chicken. The presentation of a whole Cornish game hen (or a half hen) really elevates things beyond your standard chicken meal. This Cornish hen air fryer recipe is perfect when you want your weeknight dinner to feel more festive.
- Protein-packed, nutrient-rich main dish: Chicken, including Cornish hen, is a filling lean protein that makes a great entrée to your meal. As I'll talk about below, chicken is a particularly rich source of certain essential nutrients, including niacin and phosphorus.
- Low carb and keto diet main dish option: This simple dinner entrée fits a variety of special diets. If you use a gluten-free soy sauce, you can make these air fryer hens gluten-free as well.
- Delicious, tender chicken: While health benefits are nice, most would agree that taste is at least as important, if not more. Good thing moist and juicy Cornish hens are so yummy!
Ingredients for Air Fryer Cornish Hens
Air frying Cornish hens does not require much at all! Here is what I would gather before beginning the recipe:
- Two thawed Cornish hens
- Melted butter
- Reduced-sodium soy sauce
To make the roasted zucchini and mashed cauliflower side dishes, you should also round up the following:
- Avocado Oil
- Salt and Pepper
- Garlic Powder
I decided to mash cauliflower instead of potatoes because it is what I happened to have on hand. If you don't want this lower calorie and lower carb option, feel free to make mashed potatoes instead. I might be partial to potatoes with this meal when I have a choice between the two.
Air Fryer Cornish Hens Equipment
This part is pretty obvious, but to air fry Cornish game hens, you will need an air fryer. My air fryer oven has a large-capacity and comes with a rotisserie spit attachment. You will need an air fryer with a spit to make this recipe.
I use a 10-Quart Kalorik Digital Air Fryer Oven. It gets good reviews, has many features, and is relatively inexpensive compared to other similar air fryers. Besides the spit, my Kalorik air fryer also comes with two baking trays and a drip pan.
If you are using a different brand of air fryer, you may need to modify this recipe. I've noticed that air fryer recipe cooking times can vary depending on the air fryer brand you use.
Another thing I used in this recipe is a silicone pastry brush. You could try pouring the basting mixture on the Cornish hens, but the brush helps to ensure more even coverage.
For the side dishes, I've found that cauliflower does not mash as easily as potatoes. While I think a hand masher is fine to make mashed potatoes, I prefer a food processor to make mashed cauliflower. The food processor does a better job breaking the cauliflower down for a smooth mash.
How to Air Fry Cornish Game Hens
Let's talk about how to cook Cornish hens in an air fryer rotisserie! It does not take a lot of hands-on effort at all. You'll probably want to start your sides first since Cornish hen air fries so quickly.
Sprinkle a little avocado oil on your zucchini and get it into an oven preheated to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Chop your cauliflower and get it cooking in a pot of boiling water. The zucchini will roast for 40 minutes (or more), while the cauliflower needs to boil for 20 minutes.
While your veggies cook, get your Cornish hens on the spit of your rotisserie oven. I recommend cooking one Cornish hen at a time unless you can thread them both on the spit without overlapping. I'll discuss the one Cornish hen versus two Cornish hens issue more below!
Mix your melted butter and soy sauce together. Brush this mixture on all sides of your Cornish game hens. Finish by sprinkling the hens with a little black pepper.
Now it's time to pop your hen(s) in your air fryer oven. It will take 30-40 minutes at 350 degrees Fahrenheit to cook your air fryer Cornish hens on the rotisserie.
Ensure that your hens reach a food-safe minimum internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit. If they have not, you may need to cook them a little longer. The color of the Cornish hen is not necessarily a good indicator of "doneness."
After cooking, the Cornish game hen(s) need to rest for 15 minutes before serving. While they rest, drain your cauliflower and pop it in a food processor. Add milk, butter, garlic powder, salt, and black pepper.
Whip your cauliflower in the food processor until it reaches a (thin) mashed potato consistency. Don't forget to take the zucchini out of the oven!
Serving Air Fryer Cornish Hens
To serve your meal, put ¼ of the roasted zucchini and ¼ of the cauliflower mash on each plate. Using kitchen shears, I snipped one Cornish hen in half lengthwise to make two servings. Then I put the Cornish hen half (skin-side up) on top of the mashed cauliflower.
Sprinkle everything with some parsley or chives for garnish (if desired), and dinner is ready!
2 Cornish Hens in an Air Fryer… Is it Company, or a Crowd?
You can see in the recipe video how I stubbornly packed two rather large Cornish hens on the spit. While it was nice that both chickens were done cooking at once, it took a bit of work to pack them on there. In hindsight, I recommend cooking one Cornish hen at a time in the air fryer.
I'm serious; it took me a good 10 minutes to figure out how to tightly interlock the Cornish hens on the rotisserie spit. Unless you have a larger air fryer than I do and/or smaller game hens, I'd skip this trouble.
Another issue with cooking two Cornish hens at a time is that they may cook unevenly. The places where one chicken is tucked into another on the spit may wind up improperly cooked. The skin on this part of the chicken won't get the chance to brown nicely.
Partially stuffing one Cornish hen into another is kind of like stuffing your chicken with raw meat. This could increase the risk of foodborne illness from bacteria if any of your chicken ends up undercooked.
Ideally, I'd only consider cooking two Cornish hens at once only if they don't need to overlap on the spit. Otherwise, I'll be cooking the hens individually in the future.
Expert Tips from a Dietitian
This is a level 2 recipe (transition or weight maintenance). The nutrition information for this recipe includes ½ of a whole Cornish hen, plus ¼ of the zucchini and mashed cauliflower. Though some enjoy a whole Cornish hen to themselves, it is quite a lot of food! Sticking with a half hen portion may be better if you have a weight loss goal.
There are multiple ways that you could make this a lower calorie meal. One way would be to skip eating the skin of your air fryer Cornish hen. In full disclosure, I strongly dislike suggesting this, because the crispy skin is one of my favorite parts.
A better suggestion may be to swap the cauliflower and zucchini for a green salad with low-calorie dressing. Both cauliflower and zucchini are non-starchy, low-calorie vegetables. However, when you start adding butter or oil to them, you are packing on the calories.
Believe it or not, my mashed cauliflower recipe provides more calories from butter than from actual cauliflower! At 100 calories per tablespoon for butter and 120 calories per tablespoon for oil, these ingredients are EXTREMELY energy-dense.
It's all too easy to self-sabotage weight loss with the generous addition of added fats in foods. I'm speaking from experience here! I used to roast my veggies in tons of olive oil, unknowingly adding HUNDREDs of additional calories to my meals. Please don't copy my mistake!
What to serve with Cornish hens
One way to serve Cornish hens is with mashed cauliflower and roasted zucchini, as I did in this recipe. Instead of the cauliflower, you could serve your hens with mashed potatoes, rice, or another starch. You could also use any of your favorite green vegetables in place of the zucchini.
Here are a few more ideas for side dishes to make with air fryer Cornish game hens. Some of these are air fryer recipes for side dishes that must be cooked separately from the hens. Sides like cornbread can be made earlier in the day, so the fryer is free to cook the hens in the evening:
- Air Fryer Frozen Vegetables (No More Mushy Frozen Broccoli!)
- Air Fryer Corn Bread (Jalapeno Cheddar Flavor!)
- Chop Salad Bowl (Wildflower Bread Salad Copycat)
- Air Fryer Squash with Browned Butter and Sage
Frequently Asked Questions
How do you defrost a Cornish hen?
The Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) recommends three ways to thaw chicken:
- In the refrigerator: Plan ahead if you use this method! Cornish hens can take 1-2 days (or more) to thaw in the fridge.
- In cold water: You can thaw Cornish hens in cold water if they are in a leak-proof bag or airtight packaging. Submerge the hens in cold water, changing the cold water every 30 minutes (to ensure it stays cold). This method of thawing can take 1-2 hours.
- By microwave: Microwaving Cornish hens is the fastest thawing method on this list but comes with a caveat. Cornish hens thawed in the microwave should be fully cooked right after thawing. This is because holding partially cooked chicken is a food safety risk.
How many people does one Cornish hen serve?
You might think of a Cornish hen as the chicken version of a personal pan pizza – you get the whole thing to yourself! However, a Cornish hen serves one only if you have a big appetite. In general, one Cornish hen serves two.
My husband can devour an entire Cornish hen by himself, with ample room left for sides. For the rest of us, one Cornish hen is generally too much chicken for a single meal. This can be problematic, as one of the benefits of serving Cornish hens is the lovely presentation of a whole bird on the plate.
So, how do you serve a Cornish hen to two people while keeping the nice presentation? My solution is to snip each hen in half lengthwise with kitchen shears. In this way, one Cornish hen serves two, and the chicken half looks lovely served skin-side up on a plate.
Does Cornish hen taste like chicken?
Cornish hens taste like chicken because they ARE chicken! They are the result of cross-breeding Cornish game cocks with other chicken breeds.
According to some sources, Cornish game hens were first bred right here in my home state of Connecticut. (So why don't all of our local grocery stores carry them?!? Hmph.)
Is a Cornish hen a baby chicken?
Yes, Cornish hens (also known as Rock Cornish game hens) can be thought of as baby chickens. Here's the USDA poultry class definition of a Cornish game hen:
- Immature chicken (less than five weeks old)
- Either sex (yes, this "hen" can be male or female)
- Ready-to-cook weight of two pounds or less
Is Cornish hen a healthier substitute for chicken?
Since Cornish hens are a variety of chicken, their nutrient profile is very similar to the larger chickens. Chickens, including Cornish game hens, are especially rich in niacin, vitamin B6, phosphorus, and zinc. Whether or not Cornish hens are healthier than larger chickens depends on what you are looking for.
One potential downside of Cornish hens is that they tend to get served one per person. The portion size of a single Cornish hen is HUGE! Putting an oversized portion on your plate may encourage overeating, something to be aware of if you have a weight loss goal.
Other Healthy Chicken Recipes that You'll Enjoy
Winner, winner chicken dinner! If you are on the lookout for healthy chicken ideas, check out these guys:
- Caprese Chicken Recipe – So Easy!
- Chicken and Gravy Over Rice
- Easy Stir Fry Vegetables Recipe with Chicken
- Air Fryer Chicken Legs with Mustard and Herbs
- Baked Popcorn Chicken Salad Bowl
If you have Cornish hen leftovers, you can use them in any of your favorite recipes for leftover rotisserie chicken. May I recommend my Chicken Salad with Apples and Pecans? It's an easy dinner for two (but you can easily scale it up if you're feeding a large family).
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And now for the disclaimer…
All recipes on this website may or may not be appropriate for you, depending on your medical needs and personal preferences. Consult with a registered dietitian or your physician if you need help determining the dietary pattern that may be best for you.
The nutrition information is an estimate provided as a courtesy. It will differ depending on the specific brands and ingredients that you use. Calorie information on food labels may be wildly inaccurate, so please don't sweat the numbers too much.
For more information on how the three recipe levels may help with a weight management goal, refer to my overnight oats with yogurt post. Let's get cooking!
Air Fryer Cornish Hens Recipe | Low Carb, Keto
For the Cornish hens:
- 2 Cornish hens (total weight of my hens was 2½ lbs.)
- 1 tablespoon butter, melted
- ½ tablespoon reduced-sodium soy sauce
- black pepper, to taste
For the side dishes:
- 3 medium zucchini, sliced (approximately 28 ounces)
- 4 teaspoons avocado oil
- 3 lbs. fresh cauliflower, chopped into florets
- 4 tablespoons milk, 2%
- 4 tablespoons butter
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- salt and pepper, to taste
- fresh parsley or chives, chopped (for garnish, optional)
- The Cornish hens cook so quickly, you should start your side dishes first!
To make the side dishes:
- Preheat the oven to 400°F. Mix the sliced zucchini with the avocado oil. Spread out in a metal roasting pan. Sprinkle the zucchini with salt and pepper.
- Roast the zucchini in the oven for approximately 40 minutes, stirring and flipping halfway through cooking time. Work on the rest of the meal while the zucchini cooks.
- Put the chopped cauliflower in a large pot and cover it with water. Bring the pot to a boil on the stovetop. Boil the cauliflower for 20 minutes; you want it to get really soft.
To make the Cornish hens:
- Thread a Cornish hen on your air fryer's rotisserie spit. If you can comfortably fit both hens on the spit without overlapping, you can air fry the two hens at the same time. Otherwise, you'll need to air fry your Cornish game hens one at a time.
- Mix the reduced-sodium soy sauce and one tablespoon of melted butter together. Brush the butter-soy sauce mixture all over the Cornish hens. Sprinkle the hens with black pepper.
- Attach the spit with the Cornish hen(s) to your air fryer. If your air fryer oven has a drip tray, make sure it is placed in the oven.
- Roast the Cornish hen(s) at 350°F for 30-40 minutes. Make sure the air fryer is set to rotate the spit. (My air fryer has a "rotate" button.)
- Ensure that your hens reach a food-safe minimum internal temperature of 165°F. If they have not, you may need to cook them a little longer.
- When they are done cooking, remove the Cornish hen(s) from the fryer and let them rest for 15 minutes while you finish the meal.
Finishing your Cornish game hen air fryer meal:
- Drain the cauliflower thoroughly after boiling. While it is still hot, put it in a food processor with the milk, butter, garlic powder, salt, and black pepper.
- Blend the cauliflower until it is an almost-smooth puree, similar in consistency to thin mashed potatoes. If cauliflower bits are sticking to the sides of the food processor, stop the processor, scrape down the sides with a spatula, and start the processor again.
- Evenly divide the mashed cauliflower and roasted zucchini between four plates.
- To make four servings of Cornish hen, cut each hen in half lengthwise with sharp kitchen shears. Put a game hen half, skin-side up, on top of the cauliflower mash on the plates.
- Garnish the plates with fresh parsley or chives, if desired.
This is a level 2 recipe (transition or weight maintenance). The nutrition information for this recipe includes ½ of a whole Cornish hen, plus ¼ of the zucchini and mashed cauliflower. Though some enjoy a whole Cornish hen to themselves, it is quite a lot of food! Sticking with a half hen portion may be better if you have a weight loss goal. There are multiple ways that you could make this a lower calorie meal. One way would be to skip eating the skin of your air fryer Cornish hen. In full disclosure, I strongly dislike suggesting this, because the crispy skin is one of my favorite parts. A better suggestion may be to swap the cauliflower and zucchini for a green salad with low-calorie dressing. Both cauliflower and zucchini are non-starchy, low-calorie vegetables. However, when you start adding butter or oil to them, you are packing on the calories. Believe it or not, my mashed cauliflower recipe provides more calories from butter than from actual cauliflower! At 100 calories per tablespoon for butter and 120 calories per tablespoon for oil, these ingredients are EXTREMELY energy-dense. It's all too easy to self-sabotage weight loss with the generous addition of added fats in foods. I'm speaking from experience here! I used to roast my veggies in tons of olive oil, unknowingly adding HUNDREDs of additional calories to my meals. Please don't copy my mistake! Nutrition information per serving includes half of a roasted Cornish game hen. Because these hens have some natural variability in weight, your meal's calorie content and nutritional profile may vary. Nutrition information is for one serving of the recipe.