Cornish Game Hen Soup With Garlic, Ginger & Fried Shallots

February 21, 2020
6 Ratings
Photo by Rocky Luten. Prop Stylist: Brooke Deonarine. Food Stylist: Anna Billingskog.
  • Prep time 20 minutes
  • Cook time 1 hour
  • Serves 1
Author Notes

In 1949, a fire wiped out a flock of African guinea hens that Alphonsine "Therese" Makowsky and her husband were raising and selling. To replenish their stock, Therese turned instead to Cornish chickens, whose meatiness she had read about in a book and wanted to try breeding herself, and White Plymouth Rock hens, which were favorable for their all-white meat—not to mention their petite, single-serving size. And thus, the perfect cross-bred bird, both meaty and petite, was born.

Most people don't even notice these little chickens at the grocery store today. Like many vintage trends, the Cornish game hen—beloved by the restaurant industry due to its elfinness and ultra-tender flesh—seems to have all but gone out of fashion. Why buy these little birds when there are boneless, skinless breasts and thighs and whole broiler chickens to be had?

But a Cornish game hen is the best “cut” of poultry for a solo portion of soup. Once boiled with fresh ginger and a fat handful of garlic, its flesh becomes meltingly tender (yes, even the breast meat) and the broth rich, fortified, and full of chickeny flavor. There’s something to be said for cooking an animal whole; you get depth from the bones and a richness from the skin and cartilage that you just can’t get from chicken breasts alone.

I never ate chicken breasts growing up. But we did have Cornish game hens—and had them often. Inspired by samgyetang—a Korean dish of glutinous rice–stuffed poussin (young chicken) rapidly boiled with garlic, ginseng, and jujubes (Chinese red dates)—I decided to stuff this week's Table for One recipe, as well. As the chicken boils, the white rice cooks into a sticky, compact stuffing that’s easily my favorite part of the dish (even more than the broth and the meat).

Want to hear more about Korean-American food? On our new podcast Counterjam—a show that explores culture through food and music—host Peter J. Kim talks instant ramyeun hacks, kimchi-jjigae, cheonggukjang, and more with chef Roy Choi and comedian Margaret Cho—check out the episode here. Eric Kim

Test Kitchen Notes

Featured in: A Garlicky, Gingery Chicken Soup for the Solo Soul. —The Editors

What You'll Need
  • 1/4 cup glutinous (sweet) rice, or any other short-grain white rice
  • 1 Cornish game hen (about 1 to 1 1/2 pounds)
  • 8 garlic cloves
  • 1 (2-inch) piece fresh ginger
  • 1/4 small yellow onion
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper, plus more to taste
  • Water, as needed
  • 1/4 cup thinly sliced shallots (about 1 small shallot)
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 small bunch fresh cilantro
  1. Place the rice in a sieve and run it under the tap for a few seconds to rinse off some of the excess starch. Transfer to a small bowl and cover with water. Let soak for 10 minutes.
  2. Then, prepare the hen: Remove the pouch from inside the chicken’s cavity. Add 4 or so garlic cloves into the cavity, and, using a spoon, add the rice as well.
  3. Place stuffed chicken into a small pot or saucepan (it should be nice and snug). Sprinkle over the salt and pepper. Add remaining garlic cloves, ginger, and onion around the hen and fill the pot with water. (The hen doesn’t need to be completely submerged; in fact, it’s best that it’s not, so the white meat can slowly steam in the covered pot while the dark meat braises and gets effortlessly tender in its garlicky, gingery hot bath.) Bring to a boil, cover, and reduce heat to low and cook for about 1 hour, spooning over some of the broth a couple times during cooking.
  4. Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, add the shallots and olive oil and bring to a gentle simmer, over low heat, and let cook, stirring occasionally, until shallots start to brown. This can take anywhere from 20 to 30 minutes, depending on your stove. Using a slotted spoon, remove the shallots and transfer to a paper towel to drain. Save the oil; in fact, season it now with a little salt and white pepper. This will be your dipping sauce for the chicken later.
  5. After an hour, the chicken should be cooked through and super tender. Season soup with additional salt and pepper, as needed, and garnish with fresh cilantro leaves and fried shallots. Eat straight out of its little pot with the shallot-y dipping sauce.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Greg Messer
    Greg Messer
  • Christine Don
    Christine Don
  • Karen Spardello Sagaspe
    Karen Spardello Sagaspe
  • FrugalCat
  • Eric Kim
    Eric Kim
Eric Kim was the Table for One columnist at Food52. He is currently working on his first cookbook, KOREAN AMERICAN, to be published by Clarkson Potter in 2022. His favorite writers are William Faulkner, John Steinbeck, and Ernest Hemingway, but his hero is Nigella Lawson. You can find his bylines at The New York Times, where he works now as a writer. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @ericjoonho.

16 Reviews

Jenny March 6, 2022
I made this tonight and it is so good!
Very flavorful and comforting. I enjoyed it with sujeonggwa (a sweet ginger and cinnamon iced tea).
Great recipe!!!
Greg M. December 17, 2020
OMG was this delicious! So warm, so flavorful. I'm not used to be using fresh ginger. The combination of a small piece and 8 cloves of garlic is very stimulating. I can see how great this would be if you were sick. I used Jasmine rice as it was what I had and added one chopped baby bok choy about 20 minutes before it was finished. Can't wait to make this again!!
Christine D. October 10, 2020
So yummy and comforting. The broth was delicious, and the chicken was great with the fried shallots and shallot oil. Very easy to make as well. Move over chickens, cornish hens may be my new favorite! Added red jujubes too, and will try to get ginseng to add for next time!
Christine D. October 10, 2020
So yummy and comforting, and super easy to make. The broth was delicious, and the chicken was great with the fried shallots and shallot oil. I added red jujubes and will try and find some ginseng for next time! Move over chickens, cornish game hens may be my new favorite!
Karen K. March 9, 2020
Any thoughts on how to do this in an Instant Pot (thinking double the recipe, 2 henS)
MissChristina December 14, 2021
I've used this similar Korean chicken and rice InstaPot recipe many times, and the results are great! It also calls for a full-sized chicken instead of Cornish game hens (since you're thinking of doubling the recipe).
Karen S. February 28, 2020
Made this last night and it was amazing. Doubled the recipe for two and cooked it in my Staub dutch oven. Amazing flavors, highly recommend this.
Eric K. February 28, 2020
Aw, I'm so glad. Thank you, Karen.
Mikah T. February 23, 2020
Can this be easily subbed with a regular small whole chicken and increased to feed more people? Or is the technique specific to the cornish hen?
Eric K. February 25, 2020
Hi Mikah, yes! I've done this before. The only thing is, you should account for a longer cooking time to make sure the rice and the chicken cook through. What I'd recommend, however, is that you just buy one Cornish game hen per person. The point of this recipe is that the hen cooks up so much softer than a regular supermarket chicken does, especially once boiled for an hour.
Dogolaca February 22, 2020
Arborio rice recommended?
Babs I. February 22, 2020
I subbed Arborio for sweet rice in congee, and it stayed fairly firm. For this, I think you’re safer sticking with sweet rice, if you can find it.
Eric K. February 25, 2020
Or just a regular short-grain white rice, or sushi rice, or Calrose rice.
FrugalCat February 22, 2020
Could this be done in a Crock Pot?
Babs I. February 22, 2020
Certainly it can be made in a crockpot. Allow more liquid if yours if prone to evaporation.
Eric K. February 25, 2020
Sounds divine. I haven't tested this myself, but I bet it'd make the chicken especially tender.