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Beer Brined Roasted Cornish Game Hens with Orange Chili Sauce

Beer Brined Roasted Cornish Game Hens with Orange Chili Sauce 3

I’ve started to think about dishes that have made an impact on me over the years, a salt roasted whole fish I ate in italy, curried soup I had in New York, even pancakes from my Grandfather. I didn’t grow up in a culinary family, I grew up in a defrost-and-feed family and decided I wanted to figure out this cooking thing when I was in High School. I met a guy who was older than me, SO old, in fact, that he had his own apartment. I wanted to impress him, so I offered to cook him dinner. Newly licensed, I drove to the grocery store all by myself for the first time. I had planned to buy steak and try to figure that out, but a combination of seeing these tiny chickens and realizing how expensive good steak was made the decision easy. Two "tiny chickens" were only $4, and I peeled the price tag off so that he wouldn’t know how cheap I was.

I just rubbed them with butter (probably margarine, to be honest) and salt and pepper, and cooked them until I thought they were done. They turned out amazing, I think I was more impressed than he was. It was my first official Kitchen Win, Roasted Cornish Game Hens at 16 years old, in the kitchen of a crappy post war era apartment off George Washington Way.

I haven’t made them since (until now), and I can’t even tell you why. I make roast chicken all the time, and this is just as easy, and if you are having a dinner party, it’s really impressive, everyone gets their own tiny chicken. You don’t even have to tell them how cheap they are.

Beer Brined Roasted Cornish Game Hens with Orange Chili Sauce 2

A beer brine is incredible, the combination of the subtle flavors and the meat tenderizing properties of beer give you a fantastic final product. I usually use brown ale, I love the notes of molasses and nuts that are easy to find in brown ales. I remembered Brother Thelonious from North Coast, a strong, dark, Belgian Style Abbey Ale . The notes of nuts, fruit, malt, brown sugar and cherries, along with a relatively high ABV of 9.3%, it was exactly what I was looking for. North Coast is a stellar brewery out of Northern California, that has brought us such hits as Old Rasputin and PranQster. North Coast has been preaching the craft beer gospel for 25 years, producing beer that is diverse and on point, you’ll never hear anything but praise out of me for North Coast.

Another reason to enjoy the Brother Thelonious is that a portion of the proceeds go to support the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz, It’s a beer with a mission.

The sauce can be made with what you have "leftover" from the beer brine, but let’s be honest, it probably won’t last that long. You can also use a lighter wheat beer, or a pale ale. Just a warning, alcohol intensifies heat so the higher ABV you use, the higher the heat level will be. Removing the seeds from the pepper gives you a greater control over the sauces final heat level. Most of the heat of a pepper is found in the seeds, with almost no flavor.The flesh of the pepper still has significant heat, but also contains the flavor of the pepper. If you are worried about the heat not being high enough, reserve some of the seeds and add them into the sauce as needed.


Beer Brined Roasted Cornish Game Hens with Orange Chili Sauce 4

Beer Brined Roasted Cornish Game Hens with Orange Chili Sauce


For the chicken:

  • 12 ounces Belgian ale wheat beer, or brown ale
  • ¼ cup kosher salt
  • 2 tbs white sugar
  • 1 tbs whole cloves
  • 2 cups ice
  • 2 Cornish game hens 1.75 to 2 lbs each
  • 1 large lemon
  • 2 tbs melted butter
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ½ tsp pepper

For the sauce:

  • 1 habanero chili
  • 2 cara cara oranges juiced (about 1 cup)
  • 1 tbs corn starch
  • 1 tbs white sugar
  • ¼ cup wheat beer
  • 1 tbs white vinegar
  • 1 tbs red chili flakes


  • In a pot over medium high heat, add the wheat beer, salt, sugar and cloves. Cook, stirring frequently, until the sugar and salt have dissolved, remove from heat. Add the ice, stir until dissolved.
  • Rinse the game hens inside and out, place together in a large bowl. Pour the brine over the hens, refrigerate for 6 to 12 hours.
  • Preheat oven to 425.
  • Remove hens from brine, rinse thoroughly and pat dry.
  • Place in a roasting rack of a roasting pan or on a wire rack on a rimmed baking sheet. Cut lemon into quarters. Place one quarter into each hen, place the remaining two in the roasting pan beneath the hens.
  • In a small bowl combine melted butter, salt and pepper.
  • Brush the hens liberally with the butter mixture.
  • Roast at 425 for 45 minutes or until the internal temperature reaches 165.
  • While the hens are roasting, make the sauce. Using gloves remove the seeds from the habanero, discard seeds and stem, chop remaining pepper.
  • Add habanero, orange juice, cornstarch and white sugar to a saucepan over high heat, whisk frequently until mixture has thickened. Remove from heat, add beer and vinegar, bring to a boil just until re-thickened, stir in about half (1-2 tsp) of the 1 tbs chili flakes. Taste sauce, add additional red chili flakes for a higher level of heat.
  • Serve the orange chili sauce in small sauce dishes along side the hens for dipping.


This recipe makes an abundance of sauce, enough for 4 to 6 servings. If you make more Game Hens, you won't need to double the sauce unless you make 8 or more servings. If you are worried about the heat not being high enough, reserve some of the seeds and add them into the sauce as needed.

Beer Brined Roasted Cornish Game Hens with Orange Chili Sauce

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Tieghan May 8, 2013 um 5:45 am

Wow, what an amazing dish. I am in awe. Just wow! I love the orange chili sauce, I would slather that on anything!


Jackie May 8, 2013 um 9:56 am

Thank you Teighan!


Happy Valley Chow May 8, 2013 um 7:16 am

Oh my sweet baby Jesus, I want that in my belly! Bookmarking for sure, fantastic job 🙂

Happy Blogging!
Happy Valley Chow


Cassie | Bake Your Day May 8, 2013 um 8:50 am

Roasted Cornish hens at 16 – I’m totally impressed! And this orange sauce – in love!


Jackie May 8, 2013 um 9:57 am

It was sort of an accident that it worked, but I’ll never forget it!


Gerry @ Foodness Gracious May 8, 2013 um 9:56 am

These would be so cool for my kids! Gotta get me some hens…


Jackie May 8, 2013 um 9:58 am

Just watch the heat level on that sauce, but a sweeter orange sauce might be great for the kids 🙂


Alayna @ Thyme Bombe May 8, 2013 um 10:36 am

Those are some tasty looking mini-chickens! Was thinking of making beef in a similar sauce for dinner one night this week, maybe I’ll switch it up to Cornish game hens and try it your way.


Bree {Skinny Mommy} May 8, 2013 um 2:10 pm

You know what? You rock 😉


Becki @ Bites 'n Brews May 8, 2013 um 4:37 pm

I trust you have at least two bottles of each so you can enjoy/pair your recipes with the same beer? Or do you find that they pair better with something completely different after they’ve cooked down?


Jackie May 9, 2013 um 10:07 am

it depends on the recipe, but you can’t go wrong pairing with what you cook with! This bottle works perfectly with champagne recorker that I have, so I was able to save it for dinner.


Ali | Gimme Some Oven May 8, 2013 um 9:49 pm

That’s awesome about Brother Thelonius! These sound crazy good. I’ve still never (gasp!) tried roasting a cornish game hen, but pretty sure you’ve inspired me.


MadSCAR May 8, 2013 um 11:53 pm

I love it! Thanks for recipe 🙂


Anna @ Crunchy Creamy Sweet May 9, 2013 um 7:40 am

I made my first cornish hens two years ago for a Christmas dinner. Tried to impress the in-laws 🙂 It was one amazing dish! Everyone loved it! You just reminded me of it and now I can’t wait to make them again. Beer brined and all. Oh, and the sauce sounds fabulous!


ashley – baker by nature May 9, 2013 um 10:10 am

This would be such an impressive meal to make for company! Or just me and my boyfriend… haha. I love it.


Lokness @ The Missing Lokness May 9, 2013 um 12:48 pm

Cornish hen with beer sounds so delicious. The orange sauce sounds like a perfect pair. I will be making this soon for sure.
By the way, my husband loves beer! I think he will be thrilled to hear that I have found your blog. 🙂


Katie @ Blonde Ambition May 10, 2013 um 5:16 pm

I love that story. I’m glad you revisited the oh so cheap Cornish Game Hens, cause this sounds delicious!

Brother Thelonius is one of my boyfriend’s favorite beers – I always buy it for him when he needs cheering up or to celebrate special occasions. However, I had no idea that by doing so I was also being charitable! Double whammy.


Akansha’s Recipes May 13, 2013 um 12:39 am

Simply yum. I definitely gonna try this and put a version of mine in my blog. And surely will link to your post mentioning my inspiration! Keep up the good work!


Leandro July 17, 2013 um 2:14 pm

Write more, thats all I have to say.


Chuck Brock November 27, 2014 um 2:01 pm

I bought a couple of Cornish Game Hens for our Thanksgiving dinner as I was in the mood for something a bit different. I’ve made Cornish Hens before, but since I was in the mood for different, I wanted really different. I ran across this recipe, and your site through a Google search and instantly fell in love. The only deviation I did was I spatchcocked the Hens, after the brine, and then smoked them for 2 hours at 225 with a Bourbon infused oak. The Orange Chili Sauce was a perfect compliment to the flavor from the brine and the smoke. Awesome recipe and fantastic site.


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