The Cornish game hen, though it may sound like a fancy name, merely refers to young chickens, which are usually fed a significant amount of food and slaughtered when they are about five weeks old. They are not force-fed, as is the case with ducks and geese used to produce foie gras, but are fed quite frequently, and in a high volume in order to produce about a 2-pound (0.91 kg) chicken. They’re most often sold whole and unboned, and make an ideal chicken dinner for one person.
The name is a specific reference to the fact that the chickens are of the Cornish breed. Initially the name Guinea hen was used to refer to these small birds, but Cornish game hen has become more popular as the result of Connecticut farmers Jacques and Alphonsine Markowsky's breeding practices in the 1950s. They bred the Cornish hen with the rock hen, resulting in a chicken that is mostly white meat, something many people prefer. Shoppers may see the name Rock Cornish hen to describe the breed most often sold in the US.
Typically, the bird is sold whole and is cooked by roasting. Since they are smaller, they do take less time to prepare, usually less than an hour. Cooks should still observe precautions regarding appropriate temperatures for chicken and make sure that the meat reaches a solid 160°F (71°C).
Many people like to stuff the Cornish game hen, and for this, only about 1 cup (200 grams) of stuffing is needed. As with any poultry, a cook should stuff the game hen just before placing it in the oven to avoid the possible growth of salmonella. If a cook is planning to serve multiple game hens at a dinner, and he can cook them all at once, he should be certain to remove the stuffing from each hen immediately after the are removed from the oven.
One interesting side note on this type of chicken is that the word “game” is somewhat out of place in the name. These birds are not hunted and have for several hundred years been domesticated creatures. They don’t have a gamey taste and many consider them to have a lighter flavor than more mature chickens.