Roasted buttermilk brined cornish hens in yellow roasting pan with red potatoes.

Buttermilk Brined Cornish Hens

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

Roasted buttermilk brined cornish hens in yellow roasting pan with red potatoes.
Buttermilk Brined Cornish Hens

Cornish hens are so dainty, they immediately feel like a fancy way to serve roast chicken for company. But these Buttermilk Brined Cornish 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.

Overhead shot of roasted buttermilk brined Cornish hens on a bed of red potatoes and thyme.

Note: This post first appeared March 10, 2013 and has been updated with improved kitchen notes, recipe annotation, photography and video. I hope you enjoy this favorite from my kitchen!

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 from 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 brine and spices in bowl for buttermilk brined cornish hens recipe

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.

Cornish hens in buttermilk brine in cream colored bowl.

Prepped Buttermilk Brined Cornish Hens with potatoes ready for oven.

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.

Roasted Buttermilk Brined Cornish Hens and red potatoes in a yellow handled pan.

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.

Roasted Buttermilk Brined Cornish Hens with sprigs of thyme on a bed of red potatoes.

If you enjoyed these Buttermilk Brined Cornish Hens, fire up the oven for these roasted chicken recipes:

Thai-spiced Mandarin Orange Roasted Chicken Thighs
Harissa-style Roast Chicken with Butternut Squash and Potatoes
Olive Brined Chicken Sandwich with Olive Tapenade
Filipino Chicken Adobo
Roast Chicken with Fig Chutney Sauce

Buttermilk Brined Cornish Hens

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.
Roasted buttermilk brined cornish hens in yellow roasting pan with red potatoes.
Print This Pin This
5 from 2 votes
Course Main Course
Cuisine American
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 50 minutes
Brining Time 3 hours
Total Time 1 hour
Servings 4 people
Calories 625kcal


  • 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°F. 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°F.


The nutritional information shown is an estimate provided by an online nutrition calculator. It should not be considered a substitute for a professional nutritionist’s advice.


Calories: 625kcal | Carbohydrates: 12g | Protein: 44g | Fat: 43g | Saturated Fat: 15g | Cholesterol: 262mg | Sodium: 1540mg | Potassium: 839mg | Sugar: 9g | Vitamin A: 18.5% | Vitamin C: 19.2% | Calcium: 24.3% | Iron: 12.8%
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  1. Marcie @ Flavor the Moments

    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

      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

    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

      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)

    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

      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

    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

      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

    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

      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}

    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

      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

    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

      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

    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

      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

    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

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

    • Liren

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

  10. Bernadette @ Now Stir It Up

    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!!

  11. Jen L | Tartine and Apron Strings

    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!

  12. Joanne T

    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

      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!

  13. Monica Caron

    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

      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!

  14. Jackie

    Hi Liren

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

    • Liren Baker

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

  15. Shardae

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

    • Liren Baker

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

  16. Mary

    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

      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!

    • Liren Baker

      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!

  17. GemT

    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

      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!

  18. Stacy

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

  19. Tina

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

  20. Savannah K

    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

      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!

    • Liren Baker

      That’s exactly how I felt the first time I roasted a chicken! Love those milestones ;)

  21. Samantha Paul

    Hey Liren….! I am also chef and really these Cornish hes are soooo beautiful and more delicious, I can’t wait making this. Thanks for sharing a beautiful story with amazing recipe…keep shared your new ideas with delicious recipes….!

  22. Carolyn

    The pictures are beautiful! Everything looks amazing!

  23. Amine

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

  24. Ann Baker

    Made this last night and oh my goodness: AMAZING! I love Cornish Hens even more than conventional chicken and this recipe reminded me I should cook them more often.

    • Liren Baker

      I’m so glad you loved it, Ann! I love how Cornish hens can be perfect for dinner on a weekday yet fancy enough for guests!!

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