Simple Sundays | Buttermilk Brined Cornish Hens

Buttermilk Brined Cornish Hens | Kitchen Confidante
We were at my aunt’s house last night, seated in a corner of the crowded room, the old photo album in my lap. Yellowed self stick pages held precious black and white photographs, vestiges of our family history, in some cases with dates or ages written in tiny blue ink on the edges. My great grandmother, in traditional Maria Clara, looked severely at us behind the plastic page. It was 1911, her expression severe, but she looked young and vulnerable, standing while holding her baby propped on a bench.

Buttermilk Brined Cornish Hens | Kitchen Confidante | Buttermilk and Spices

The photo below showed her as a mature woman, seated, still in traditional dress, surrounded by her sons and daughters, all in their 20’s, 30’s and 40’s. Look, there is my grandmother, I pointed out to my husband. The writing on the photograph indicated that she was 40. And there is Lola Pacita, I smiled. She was 36. My grandmother’s younger sister, whom she lovingly called nene – little girl –, was the reason why we were there. She turned 90 years old this week, and our family had gathered from all over the bay to celebrate.

Buttermilk Brined Cornish Hens | Kitchen Confidante | Hens in Brine
Buttermilk Brined Cornish Hens | Kitchen Confidante | Prepped

As we turned page after page, we were transported through the years, relatives slowly aging with each flip of the page. Uncles robust and young, in full military dress, confusing me because they looked so similar to cousins my own age. The family in the pictures grew in number, as my great grandmother’s children married and formed families of their own. Cousins, second cousins, little ones. All related.

And then we turned the last page. The last photo made me gasp. It was a snapshot at my parent’s wedding, my mother and father holding hands and making their way through the tables, greeting their guests. My mother’s eyes were in mid blink, a big smile on her face, and it was like looking at a mirror and seeing my sister at the same time. But what made me catch my breath was my dad. His expression. It was in a side smirk that was eerily familiar. My little boy’s smirk. I never realized it before, but the adorable idiosyncrasy my husband and I love about our son was actually a legacy from my father.

Our family history continues.

Buttermilk Brined Cornish Hens | Kitchen Confidante | Roasted

Cornish hens are more than just mini me’s of everyday chickens, I do believe that they have a special flavor all their own. And when prepared in a buttermilk brine, they are a wonderful change of pace from the standard roast chicken. I hope you enjoy these Buttermilk Brined Cornish Hens. They’re incredibly simple, moist and full of flavor.

Buttermilk Brined Cornish Hens | Kitchen Confidante | Oven Roasted

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Buttermilk Brined Cornish Hens

Yield: Serves 4.

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cook Time: 50 minutes

Total Time: 1 hour, plus brining

Cornish hens are so dainty, they immediately feel like a fancy way to serve roast chicken for company. But these hens are just as lovely for a weeknight meal. The buttermilk brine infuses flavor and moisture to the hens, and can be done the night before.


2 Cornish hens, 1 1/2 to 1 3/4 pounds each
3 cups buttermilk
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon cumin
Juice of 1 lime
1 lemon, halved
2 tablespoons butter, melted
kosher salt
freshly ground pepper
fresh thyme


Rinse the Cornish hens under cool water, including the cavity. Pat dry with paper towels, set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, salt, cayenne pepper, garlic powder, cumin and lime juice. Place the hens breast side down and cover with plastic wrap. Place in the refrigerator. Let the hens brine for at least 3 hours, or overnight.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Take the hens out of the brine and lightly pat dry with paper towels. Season the cavities with a little salt and pepper, and insert half a lemon and a sprig of thyme. Tie the legs together with kitchen twine. Brush the hens with melted butter, and season generously with salt and pepper. Place in a roasting pan. If you wish, you can surround the hens with red potatoes, brushed with butter and seasoned with salt and pepper.

Place in the middle rack of the oven. Roast the hens for 50 minutes to 1 hour; until the skin is bronzed and the internal temperature in thickest part of the thigh is about 180 degrees.

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by Liren Baker on March 10, 2013

69 Responses to “Simple Sundays | Buttermilk Brined Cornish Hens”

  1. Marcie @ Flavor the Moments March 10, 2013 @ 9:56 am (#

    I’ve used buttermilk as a marinade or brine before and I love it. These cornish game hens look fabulous, and I’d love to make them. I hardly think mine will look this beautiful!

    • Liren replied: — March 11th, 2013 @ 8:30 pm

      Thanks Marcie! Of course they will be beautiful! I do love buttermilk, there is so much you can do, and brining with it never disappoints!

  2. Betty Ann @Mango_Queen March 10, 2013 @ 11:49 am (#

    What lovely memories of your family! You told the story so beautifully I felt like I was at your reunion, too. And this Cornish Hens ? Oh my goodness, your photos are so mouthwatering. Love this dish. I must get some soon – this will be great for an Easter family dish. All the best to you and your family, Liren!

    • Liren replied: — March 11th, 2013 @ 9:23 pm

      Betty Ann, you would have fit right in our family gathering :) Thank you so much, I’m glad you like the dish – you’re right, it would definitely be just right for Easter!

  3. Laura (Tutti Dolci) March 10, 2013 @ 1:14 pm (#

    I love brining with buttermilk, your hens look deliciously golden! How fun to gather with your family and recover forgotten memories…I’m sure your chocolate cake was a hit! :)

    • Liren replied: — March 11th, 2013 @ 9:24 pm

      I’m glad to say the chocolate cake arrived intact and was definitely well received, whew! Always fun to see family, wish we gathered like this more often!

  4. Lindsey March 10, 2013 @ 1:21 pm (#

    This reminds me of the guinea fowl we typically eat in my French family for xmas dinner! Absolutely stunning and mouth-watering photos and I’m bookmarking this recipe for next year’s family gathering! :)

    • Liren replied: — March 11th, 2013 @ 9:25 pm

      Guinea fowl sounds amazing, Lindsey! I think that is what I love about this dish – it could be fancy enough for a Christmas dinner, or simple enough for a Monday night! Thank you so much for your kind words, I’m glad you liked it!

  5. Sandra's Easy Cooking March 10, 2013 @ 5:25 pm (#

    Pictures can transport us to our childhood as well as food. I love going through really old picture albums as most of them tell the story, but unfortunately I personally don’t have that many pictures so most of the pictures remain in my memory.
    Your dish looks so delicious, it is screaming at me to make some soon! We love cornish hens, and I make it just like you except I never used buttermilk…sounds even more delish! Have a wonderful week ahead!

    • Liren replied: — March 11th, 2013 @ 9:26 pm

      We must hold on to those memories, and what precious little pictures we do have! I think that’s why people like us enjoy blogging, it’s another way to preserve those moments in time. Hope you have a wonderful week, too, Sandra!

  6. Lisa {AuthenticSuburbanGourmet} March 10, 2013 @ 6:15 pm (#

    What a lovely story! Always fun to reflect, spend time with family and look at photos. It is amazing what photo, a song, a scent or a food can transport you right back in time. This buttermilk brined cornish hens looks and sounds amazing! Lovely photos.

    • Liren replied: — March 11th, 2013 @ 9:28 pm

      Looking at old photos never gets old, it doesn’t matter how many times I have seen them! That is a reminder to me that I really should print out more of our photographs, so we can enjoy them! Have a wonderful week, Lisa!

  7. Cheryl March 10, 2013 @ 6:34 pm (#

    As always your words jump off of the page and instantly create a vision for me!! Loved the little bit of family history and the Cornish hens sound fabulous. Can’t wait to try this recipe!!

    • Liren replied: — March 11th, 2013 @ 9:29 pm

      Cheryl, thank you so much – you’ve always been so supportive, I am so glad you were able to experience my evening with me, through the story. These Cornish hens will be just right in the newly fixed oven ;)

  8. Monet March 10, 2013 @ 7:49 pm (#

    Ah, what a lovely post. I felt like I was right there with you…looking at all those photographs. And then of course, the food made me wish I was sitting at your table! Simple transporting! Thank you for sharing this simple yet stunning dish. I hope this week is full of good things…much laughter…and more delicious food!

    • Liren replied: — March 11th, 2013 @ 9:30 pm

      Thank you, Monet! I’m so pleased that you enjoyed the post, and hope that your week is full of good things, too!! With all the wonderful things that come out of your oven, I’m certain it will be delicious :) Hugs to you!

  9. Brian March 10, 2013 @ 8:30 pm (#

    What can I say… I’m totally into this. Not that I eat meat, but, you know… if I did I’d prepare it just like this.

    I take such pleasure in looking at old photographs… analyzing them, finding some connection to them.

    • Liren replied: — March 11th, 2013 @ 9:31 pm

      Heh, I understand, Brian :) If you ever returned to the meat side, this definitely has that pragmatic deliciousness I know you appreciate :)

  10. Simone March 10, 2013 @ 11:40 pm (#

    Loved the story and love these hens! Beautiful shots too….

    • Liren replied: — March 11th, 2013 @ 9:31 pm

      Thank you so much, Simone. That especially means a lot to me, coming from you.

  11. Belinda @zomppa March 11, 2013 @ 3:57 am (#

    I should not have looked at this so early in the morning. Now I’ll dream of this all day!

    • Liren replied: — March 11th, 2013 @ 9:37 pm

      I hope you got your Cornish hens by the day’s end, Belinda ;)

  12. Norma-Platanos, Mangoes and Me! March 11, 2013 @ 7:01 am (#

    Lovely post…sweet memeories…The picture is perfect….

    • Liren replied: — March 11th, 2013 @ 9:37 pm

      Thank you, dear Norma! xo

  13. Bernadette @ Now Stir It Up March 12, 2013 @ 10:46 am (#

    I love looking through old albums at family functions. Its funny how everyone always remembers different moments. Having photos to help you remember where you came from is always so special. The cornish hens look great. A simple delish meal!!

  14. Carol | a cup of mascarpone March 12, 2013 @ 2:14 pm (#

    Liren, these are seriously the most beautiful cornish hens I have ever seen, and your photography is stunning!

  15. Jen L | Tartine and Apron Strings March 14, 2013 @ 5:37 am (#

    Hi, Liren! What wonderful treasure you have found beneath those yellowed plastic sticky sheets! You are indeed fortunate to have such memories etched on paper, to be passed on from one generation to another. Unfortunately for me, my family has never gotten the chance to save their photos – they were all lost during multiples moves to foreign countries, etc. It’s really a beautiful thing to “see” the DNA that’s been passed down through generations. This really reminds me of how powerful nature is and how beautifully designed we humans are!

    As for the buttermilk cornish hen…I haven’t had cornish hen in a loooooooong time! They were so popular in the 90’s – supermarkets everywhere selling them, But now, I hardly see them anymore…Will have to revive the cornish hen at home, then!

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  17. Joanne T December 25, 2013 @ 8:20 pm (#

    Loved the story which made preparation of these hens for our Crhistmas Dinner even more special when asked where the recipe came from. They came out as beautiful in the picture and the family LOVED it. This will be a recipe that will be used for years to come. Thank you for sharing!

    • Liren replied: — December 30th, 2013 @ 7:08 am

      Dear Joanne, I first read your comment in my way home from Christmas dinner with my relatives, the very same one I wrote about in this post, and I want you to know how touched I was to receive your message! I’m so glad that the hens came out beautifully, and even more happy that in some small way, I was part of your Christmas meal. That means so much! Thank you for taking the time to write :-) Wishing you a wonderful New Year!

  18. Monica Caron January 12, 2014 @ 6:15 am (#

    Always love your narratives. Your have a wonderful capability of creating a sense of nostalgia and familiarity. I made this recipe for New Years Eve dinner. It was such a huge success that I’m making it again tonight for my in-laws. The flavor combination is so delicious and the hens come out so beautiful. And the best part – it’s such an easy thing to prepare!

    • Liren Baker replied: — January 13th, 2014 @ 12:33 pm

      Monica, thank you for your lovely comment, I really appreciate it! It means a lot to know that I was part of your New Year’s Eve and not only that, but you’ve made it again since! Thank you for taking the time to let me know!

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  20. Jackie March 30, 2014 @ 12:50 am (#

    Hi Liren

    Is there another spice that I could use in place of the cumin. I do not like cumin.

    • Liren Baker replied: — March 30th, 2014 @ 1:41 pm

      Hi Jackie, the cumin is rather subtle in this dish, but feel free to omit the cumin, if you are not a fan!

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  23. Shardae April 2, 2015 @ 10:59 am (#

    Hi Do you cover the Cornish Hen’s with anything ? Or just put them right in the oven?

    • Liren Baker replied: — April 3rd, 2015 @ 10:58 am

      Hi Shardae – no need to cover the hens – just go ahead and roast them uncovered so they get golden brown. Good luck!

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  34. Mary October 25, 2015 @ 4:38 pm (#

    I just made this on 10/23/15 for a special date night for my boyfriend and I, and it was AMAZING. So incredibly delicious and tender, he said it was one of the best meals I have ever made. The combination of flavors were just crazy good. We are both foodies, love to cook and love to try new things. We will definitely make this for our next special occasion. Thank you for this recipe. The baby potatoes turned out great too. Bravo!!

    • Liren Baker replied: — December 15th, 2015 @ 11:39 pm

      Mary, I am SO glad this recipe was part of your date night! That is so wonderful to hear – thank you!! Happy cooking to you and your boyfriend!

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  36. Joy November 8, 2015 @ 10:00 pm (#

    Do you cover the Cornish hens during cooking?

    • Liren Baker replied: — November 9th, 2015 @ 9:03 am

      Hi, Joy! I leave the hens uncovered during roasting, but I do check it periodically — if it looks like the skin is bronzed and getting too dark, then I lightly cover it with a sheet of aluminum foil until the hens are cooked through. Hope that helps!

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  38. GemT December 10, 2015 @ 12:33 pm (#

    Thank you for sharing this recipe. It is AWESOME! We had it  for Thanksgiving and my 7 year old can’t get enough of it. Crunchy skin, very flavorful  and moist meat. Thr cayenne and cumin did not overwhelm. Brining a couple cornish hens right now.

    • Liren Baker replied: — December 11th, 2015 @ 2:21 pm

      This makes me so happy! I’m so honored that my recipe was part of your Thanksgiving and especially glad that your 7 year old loved it – that is the best compliment I can hope for. Thank you!

  39. Stacy December 15, 2015 @ 4:49 pm (#

    I made this tonight
    First time EVER to make a Cornish Hen and it was amazing
    Great Recipe!

    • Liren Baker replied: — December 15th, 2015 @ 11:36 pm

      So awesome to hear, Stacy!! I’m so glad!!

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  42. Tina January 7, 2016 @ 8:52 am (#

    I’m making this tonight for my husband and I. Can’t wait to try it! Thanks for sharing!

    • Liren Baker replied: — January 8th, 2016 @ 9:23 am

      I hope the hens came out well, Tina!

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  45. Savannah K March 27, 2016 @ 5:12 pm (#

    Linen – AMAZING recipe. Just made it for my husband’s and my Easter dinner and the hens had the crispiest skin and juiciest meat of anything I’ve ever made! Instantly became a family favorite. Served with a mushroom risotto! What a picture perfect and delicious dish

    • Liren Baker replied: — March 30th, 2016 @ 8:52 am

      Hi Savannah! This makes me so happy! I am honored that this recipe was part of your Easter dinner and that you loved it so much. Pairing it with mushroom risotto is perfect. Thanks for coming back to let me know!

  46. Savannah K March 27, 2016 @ 5:13 pm (#

    Phone corrected your name to linen…sorry Liren! !

    • Liren Baker replied: — March 30th, 2016 @ 8:53 am

      Hee hee, totally understand! :)

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