Beer Brined Pousinn Game Hen

English: Dark Cornish Hen owned by Misty Lundberg

Rock Cornish Danish Hen

A non traditional gourmet alternative to Turkey.

Brining is the ONLY way to prepare poultry in my book. This is especially true for game birds that have a lower fat content. A brined pheasant will result in a MUCH more juicy product that any other process. The flavor will be in the bird, not on it. Deep frying a brined bird is almost magical. Brining enables the bird to absorb more liquid and flavor. This recipe is time consuming for a small end product but is worth it.

It is much easier to brine a small piece of meat and keep it below 38 degrees F  (safe zone for poultry) than larger birds. The key to the process is using the perfect small fowl. This  LIFEHACKER link explains the science of brining. I inject meat that is skinless, Thanksgiving birds traditionally have skin. Injecting meat puts holes in it. The skin of your Cornish hen will keep the juices in so there is no need to inject them and you get the added benefit of the sugar to brown crispy skin.

Cornish hens are more exotic, personal (you can tweak the stuffing for each diner like adding bacon!)  providing a more intimate presentation. It is all in the prep time. Cooking time is usually an hour or less. This is a major benefot if you are cooking for a few or if a plane is delayed. Flexible. You can also tweak the brine to your taste and don’t have to screw with basting or rubs.

This year we are having Cornish Game hens for Thanksgiving (aka “Rock Hen”). Our turkey might come later in liquid form as (WTF!) Wild Turkey Forgotten. Poussin is another name for little chicken, any  little chic will do. Cornish hens eliminate the need for carving and are tastier than any turkey could ever be, IMHO. Mostly white meat, a whole bird for yourself in a perfectly sized portion and more flavorful than a typical roaster.
This recipe is based on 2 approx 18oz birds. Increase salt and cooking time incrementally for larger poultry.
Be sure that the birds are labeled as “All Natural” ” and or “no salt or water added”. Many processors like butterball inject salt water (among other things) to increase weight (profit) and also to make their chickens ant frankenturkeys more moist.


2 Gallon Pot and Ziplock bag
2 Quarts Beer
2 QuartsWater or Ice
1 Cup Kosher Salt (or sea) DO NOT USE Iodine infused table salt
1/2 Cup Sugar
4 Bay Leaves (1-2 per bird)
1 Tbs Sage per bird
1 Each Yellow Onion, peeled and chopped
1 Each Lemon, quartered
4 Each Garlic Cloves, peeled and sliced

Halved and sprinkled with Paprika for improved presentation

I brine for 12 hours with this salt concentration. If you don’t have that much time to prepare, add more salt. Iodine table salt will impart a metallic taste and is much more dense than Kosher and Sea salt.


In a large pot, salt, sugar, bay leaves, sage, onion, lemon and garlic.  Bring to a simmer for 10 minutes and remove from heat.  Add the remaining ice and beer; this will help cool the brine solution.  Refrigerate for 1 hour or until brine is well chilled.

Use either a 2 gallon Ziplock or the 2 gal pot that you just refrigerated. Cornish Hens will float so the Ziplock makes it easier to keep the pousinn submerged. Add the chickens then the brine, stuff a sage leaf in the cavity and place in the fridge.

12 or so hours later, remove the chicken from the brine,

Notice the Pho bowls hah!

rinse well, pat dry and let rest in the fridge uncovered while the over is preheating to 450°F. After rubbing enough olive oil (or butter but this isn’t a requirement) all over the chicken, place the bird on the top roasting rack,  breast up with a baking pan below to catch juices and roast until the internal temperature is 160°F, about 50 minutes.  Remove from oven and let rest for 15 minutes for any carry over temperature (the chicken will continue to cook even outside the oven, do to the high heat) and the juices to re-distribute, before serving. I usually cut my birds in half before plating them.

Letting the birds drain while they cook keeps the bottom of the bird from staying wet. It cooks more evenly all around this way. You can also sift out the herb mixture and rub it on the skin (sometimes I separate the skin all over the breast and put the herbs inside after removing the bay leaf. It’s up to your preferences. I also mix the caught juices in my gravy mix. There won’t be much with 2 birds but it can’t hurt your gravy.

Note: for crispy skin, after removing from brine, place in fridge for an hour then remove and rinse the bird off with boiling water. This will dry out the skin. Moisture is your enemy when it comes to chicken skin.

You can also substitute white wine for half of the water if you have enough wine on hand. Apple cider might be an interesting alternative that I haven’t tried yet.

DO NOT use less salt per volume because you will be soaking the bird vs brining it.

Sugar is for browning the bird, DON’T skimp on it or you could end up with a grey colored bird that won’t be appealing to the eye.

Happy Thanksgiving!