Recipe: Roasted Little Birds with Garlic-Herb Butter

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThese delicious little birds are a fantastic Thanksgiving alternative for those who don’t have the time, space or appetite for a whole turkey. They take just an hour or two from start to finish and make the perfect serving size.

This recipe will serve 2­-4 people, depending on how hungry you are. I like to cut the finished birds in half, down the middle, and serve 1⁄2 per person… but I could easily eat a whole one.

We recommend pairing these delicious little birds with a bright and fresh Pinot Noir like the Verse Carneros Pinot Noir, or a full-bodied white wine with acidity and herbal notes such as our La Clarine White Blend No. 1. Both of these wines are offered in our Fall wine club lineup.

If you want to create a complete meal, you could serve these guys with our Raw Kale Harvest Salad and Savory Chanterelle & Gruyere Bread Pudding. All of these dishes are amazing together and would be sure to impress your Thanksgiving guests!

Special Tools:
Butcher’s twine
Meat thermometer
Oven­proof skillet (stainless steel, cast iron, etc) 

2 Cornish Game Hens, about 1 or 1.5 lb. each.

For the garlic herb compound butter:
2 tsp finely chopped oregano
2 tsp finely chopped thyme
2 tsp finely chopped rosemary
2 cloves finely chopped garlic
Pinch of salt
1⁄4 cup butter (1⁄2 stick)


  1. Pre­heat your oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Rinse cornish hens and pat dry with a paper towel, inside and out. Salt the cavity of the bird liberally with sea or kosher salt.
  3. Make the compound butter by fork­-mashing the butter with the chopped herbs, garlic and salt.
  4. Run your forefinger between the hen’s breast meat and the skin (making a pocket), then stuff some compound butter under skin. Distribute it evenly under the skin and over the breast meat by patting it down from the outside. Do not put butter on the outside of the bird, as it will prevent the skin from crisping in the oven.
  5. Truss your hens with butcher’s twine. This makes the birds more compact, and they will cook more evenly. Trussing also makes for a more visually appealing finished product. Click here for instructions on trussing.
  6. Salt & pepper the outside of the hens.
  7. Heat a large oven­-proof skillet over medium-­high heat. Add 2 tbsp. olive oil & heat until the oil shimmers. Once hot, place the birds breast-­side up on the skillet. Brown the bottom of the birds and the sides of the birds, but NOT the breast of the birds. This should only take a few minutes.
  8. Once the sides and bottoms of your hens are crispy and brown, pop the whole skillet into your hot oven. Roast for 40 minutes to an hour, depending on the size of your hens. Baste the birds with the pan juices every 15 minutes or so. Your birds are finished when a meat thermometer inserted into the dark meat reads 165 degrees and the skin is brown and crispy. Let rest for 5-­10 minutes.
  9. Butterfly and separate into halves with poultry shears or serve them whole with a sprig of thyme as a garnish. I like to serve them with a little side of dijon mustard.