Cornish Hens with Herbs Sauce; Herbs 101

Herbs and spices.

They define cuisines, make meals memorable and take dishes from the boring to the sublime.

Most of us know to put oregano on pizza, basil on tomatoes and chives in scrambled eggs.

Many of us would like to be more adventuresome, more daring, more creative….

But are a little uncertain what works well together.

We have all of these little jars, bags and pouches….. Time to put them all to use.

Well, maybe not all in the same dish….

Herbs are leaves, either fresh or dried.

Spices are the rest of the plant: seeds, stems, roots, bark, buds, berries; and are most often dried.

Here is some starting information on the most common herbs:

Balm, Lemon: Best used fresh.  Goes with poultry, fish and in green and fruit salads.  Combine with rosemary, mint, thyme.

Basil:  Goes with tomatoes, pasta sauces, summer vegetables (beans, zucchini, squash), and green salads.  Combine with marjoram, oregano, parsley, paprika, rosemary, sage, savory, thyme.

Bay Leaves: Goes with tomato sauces, soups, stews, braised meats.  Combine with basil, oregano, paprika, rosemary, sage, thyme.

Chervil:  Goes with eggs, mild cheese, green salads, potatoes.  Combine with basil, chives, coriander, parsley.

Chives:  Goes with eggs, white sauces, potatoes, green salads, poultry, fish, seafood.  Combine with basil, chervil, parsley.

Coriander (leaf), aka: Cilantro: Goes with green salads, Asian and Indian cuisines, curries, Indian.  Combine with basil, curry leaves, dill, parsley, lemon grass, fenugreek.

Dill (leaves or weed): Goes with white sauces for chicken and fish, eggs, potatoes, fish, cucumbers, yogurt or sour cream, salad dressings, vinegars.  Combine with basil, chives, fennel fronds, parsley.

Marjoram: Goes with fish, vegetables, poultry, eggs, salads.  Combine with basil, bay, oregano, paprika, oregano, rosemary, sage, savory, thyme.

Mint (spearmint): Goes with peas, tomatoes, yogurt, salad dressings.  Combines with marjoram, oregano, rosemary, sage, savory, thyme.

Oregano: Goes with pizza, Italian pasta dishes, roast meats and poultry, meat loaf.  Combine with bay, marjoram, paprika, oregano, rosemary, sage, savory, thyme.

Parsley: Goes with eggs, potatoes, soups, pasta dishes, fish, poultry.  Combine with  basil, bay, chives, chervil, dill, oregano, oregano, rosemary, sage, thyme.

Rosemary: Goes with breads, pork, lamb, game, dried beans, summer squash.  Combine with basil, bay, marjoram, sage, savory, tarragon, thyme.

Sage: Goes with breads, game, duck, goose, pork, turkey, soups, pasta dishes with sausage or pork.  Combine with basil, bay, chives, marjoram, mint, oregano, parsley, rosemary, savory, tarragon, thyme.

Savory, summer: Goes with green beans, peas, lentils, eggs, pork, veal, poultry, fish.  Combine with basil, bay, marjoram, oregano, rosemary, sage, tarragon, thyme.

Tarragon: Goes with sauces, salad dressings, fish, poultry, eggs, some sauces.  Combine with bay, marjoram, parsley, savory, thyme.

Thyme: Goes with soups, stews, most meats, sausages, salads and salad dressings, sauces.  Combine with basil, bay, marjoram, oregano, rosemary, sage, savory, tarragon.

There are, of course, exceptions to all these suggestions…

Like the famous veal dish that highlights fresh sage:

Veal Saltimbocca alla Romana (alla Katie):


Or the Braised Pork Loin that uses 12 fresh bay leaves:

Pork with Bay Leaves

We like the classic Braised New Potatoes with Butter and Chives:

New Potatoes with Chives
And Pan-Fried Salmon with Dill Sauce:

Salmon with Dill Sauce

One of my favorites is the sauce that goes with these cute little hens.

Cornish Hens with Herbs

Cornish Game Hens with Herb Sauce

2 Cornish Game Hens, poissin or little, individual chickens or 1 small whole chicken
2 tbs soft butter
1 1/2 tbs dried tarragon
1 1/2 tbs dried summer savory
1 1/2 tbs dried thyme
1/2 tsp salt
2 tbs olive oil

Wash hens and pat dry with paper towels. Mix 1 tbs butter with 1 tbs each of tarragon, thyme and savory. Divide herb mixture and put half into each of the hens. Tie legs close and bend wings around and under the back – so it looks like they are lying there with their arms akimbo. It keeps them from flapping and gives the hen something to rest on. Lay them on a rack in a shallow baking pan.
Rub the remaining 1 tbs butter over the hens and sprinkle the remaining 1/2 tbs of each herb and the salt over the top. Put into 400F (200C) oven and bake for 30 minutes. Pour 1 tbs oil over each hen and bake 20 – 30 minutes longer or until done. 
Remove and serve with:

Herb Sauce

Herb Sauce

1 tbs butter
1 shallot
1/2 tsp dried tarragon
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1/2 tsp dried savory
1 tbs flour
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/4 cup chicken stock
1/3 cup Greek yogurt, crème fraiche, or sour cream

Finely chop shallot or leek. In medium saucepan sauté shallot and herbs in butter until shallot is tender. Add flour and stir constantly for 1 minute with a whisk. Slowly add wine stirring constantly to thicken. Add stock and heat, stirring, to boiling. Add yogurt and serve.

Next week: Spices.

8 thoughts on “Cornish Hens with Herbs Sauce; Herbs 101”

  1. This herb sauce looks great. I think it would enhance almost any poultry dish – I sure get tired of making the same old chicken. I’m going to check out the pan fried salmon with dill sauce as well – it looks delicious!
    Best Toaster Oven

  2. What a great resource, Katie. …although I’d argue about the “best used fresh” for Lemon Balm. Personally I think it’s best left in the garden to look pretty. (I think Lemon Balm tastes and smells too much like lemon drop candies.) When we’re looking for a lemon-like herb, we choose lemon verbena or lemon thyme.
    The game hen and sauce looks wonderful.

  3. Val, yeah, I’m anxious for spring!
    Jill, thanks – hope you like it, as well!
    manningroad, I’m one of those 20% that can’t stand coriander… although I keep trying LOL
    Thanks, Ina, I totally agree!
    Elizabeth, I love lemon thyme, also – often use it with lemon balm for marinades and for stuffing into fish before grilling.
    Jparis, thanks – glad you like them!

  4. Hello! 🙂
    Sorry for the comment, but I couldn’t find any other way to contact you.
    This Wednesday (tomorrow), I’m hosting a blog carnival and I would like to invite you to stop by and post the link to one of your recent herbal blog posts.
    This is a great way to increase traffic to your site as well as share your love and knowledge of anything herbal. 🙂
    Please let me know if you have any questions, and I hope to see you Wednesday at
    Thanks! 🙂
    Katherine Atkinson

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