Cornish Game Hens with Shitake & Chard (Low Carb & Gluten Free)


grilled cornish game hensA Cornish Game Hen, while it sounds exotic, is basically a 5 week old chicken.  Though it has the term “Game” in the title, it isn’t a game bird at all, it’s just a specific breed of domestic chicken. They are sold at about 2lbs each, and are usually found in the freezer section of your average grocery store.

So what is the big deal?  Why should you bother going to the trouble of finding and cooking this diminutive bird?  Well, having never eaten it before, I decided to investigate.  I had been passing by piles of these softball sized birds in the freezer section for years, and recently decided to buy a couple just to see what all of the fuss was about.  I figured that even though, like me, most of you wouldn’t be making this all the time, it would be nice to have a recipe like this to bust out for special occasions.  And at the very least, it would give me something interesting and different to post here at IBIH.  (See the bottom of the post about my plans for more recipes suitable for entertaining in the future!)

Sadly, the birds languished in my freezer for about 2 months before I finally got around to cooking them the other day, and I’m sorry that I waited so long!  The flavor is much more intense than traditional chicken – I grilled up some regular chicken legs at the same time, and though they were seasoned the same, the meat tasted so bland in comparison!  I was really surprised at how flavorful the game hens were, and also by how much meat was on them due to their small size.  Just one of them was the perfect portion.  A word of caution though, the rib bones are tiny and sharp, so be extra careful when eating it or it could mean a painful trip to the E.R.  It’s worth the risk though, trust me!

Cornish Game Hen with Shitake & Chard

Because I was grilling mine, I “spatchcocked” them, which basically means taking out the breast and backbones so that the bird lays flat.  Photo tutorials aren’t really my thing, so I’m including a link to an easy to understand photo tutorial on how to spatchcock a chicken, which works the same on the game hens.

cornish game hens spatchcocked

It’s a good technique to know, because not only will you impress everyone with your mad skillz, it really does help the birds cook evenly all over – especially when grilling.  Don’t be intimidated – it really is easy-peasy, promise!

cornish game hens on the grill

I served my grilled game hens with a simple low carb saute of shitake mushrooms and Swiss chard.  You could also make this with kale, spinach or even collard greens – really any low carb leafy green vegetable will work.  To make this recipe Whole 30 compliant, simply replace the butter in the saute with clarified butter or ghee.  You could also substitute with olive oil, but I really, really love the rich flavor that the butter gives to the mushrooms.

cornish game hens with shitakes and kale


Cornish Game Hens with Shitakes & Chard (Low Carb & Gluten Free)

Yield: 2 servings

Serving Size: 1 game hen, 1 cup of shitake/chard saute

Cornish Game Hens with Shitakes & Chard (Low Carb & Gluten Free)

A fantastic recipe for Cornish Game Hens that can make a lovely romantic dinner for two – or impress the guests at your next dinner party!


  • 2 Cornish Game Hens
  • 1 Tbsp Olive Oil
  • Kosher salt & pepper to taste
  • For the Saute
  • 3 Tbsp butter
  • 1 cup sliced shitake mushrooms
  • 2 cups shredded chard
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/2 Tbsp fresh thyme leaves
  • Kosher salt and pepper to taste


  • Spatchcock the cornish game hens so that they lay flat. Rub in the olive oil, salt and pepper. Grill over medium heat for about 6 minutes per side, or until the juices run clear or the thickest part of the thigh reads 165 degrees (F). Remove and let rest for at least five minutes.
  • For the Saute:
  • Melt the butter in a large saute pan. Add the mushrooms and saute until golden brown – resist the urge to keep disturbing them or they won’t get brown, they’ll just turn grey and soggy. Add the greens, salt and pepper and saute until softened (about five minutes – less if using spinach). Remove from the heat and stir in the thyme leaves. Serve with the Cornish Game Hens


Approximate nutrition info per serving: 494 calories, 32g fat, 5.25g net carbs, 29g protein

cornish game hens

As a side note, how many of you have an interest in more recipes suited to entertaining and special occasions?  One of my future cookbook outlines is for The Entertaining Low Carber, which would feature recipes and menu plans for special occasions – from an upscale dinner party to a Summer BBQ, and everything in between throughout the year.  So I’m just curious if it’s something you guys would enjoy, and what you’d like to see included.  Also, if you have my first cookbook The Gluten Free Low Carber already, what did you like about the format, and/or what would you prefer to see changed or add in future books?  Any input is appreciated, and I very much look forward to getting your feedback on this project!

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  1. Shelley

    Any recipe that you post is worthy of a book. One for special occasions would be great!

  2. Sonia! The Healthy Foodie
    Sonia! The Healthy Foodie05-07-2013

    You definitely are the poultry specialist, Mellissa. Dang can you make them birds look good! :)

  3. Eric

    I love game hens, but haven’t had one in a long time… this might make me rethink that. Looks great, and I love shitakes (especially with butter!).

    The Entertaining cookbook would be wonderfully useful – especially if it had lots of Hors D’oeuvres. I make your Parmesan Flax crackers, but wish they were a little flakier. But meatballs, shrimp-y things, dips (hot and cold), etc. would be good to have all in one place. And perhaps a low carb recipe for my party food standby – a real smoked ham?

    Looking forward to what you come up with.

  4. Katie

    I just found your site yesterday and I’m so glad I did. Everything looks amazing and I can’t wait to try some of these recipes!

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