Food You Can Eat: Celebrity Sunday Matinee: Isaac Hayes’s Cornish Hens

Who is the man that would roast a hen for his brother, man? (Shaft)

Isaac Hayes in 1973. Image via The Guardian.

There is so much to ponder about this. This is a “who what why” recipe. It made its way into our lives in Isaac Hayes’s Cooking With Heart & Soul (2000), and Isaac Hayes did voice the role of Chef on “South Park”, so maybe this makes sense. Ultimately his Scientologist co-believers convinced him to leave the show (yes, Isaac Hayes was one of many in a long line of Hollywood Scientologists) thus severely cutting off his income stream, and he’d already declared bankruptcy once, in the 1970s, in a dispute with the equally bankrupted Stax records…

For a minute, let’s return to Cooking With Heart & Soul. It also features recipes by noted Scientologists Anne Archer (“Homemade Spaghetti”) and John Travolta (“Hamburger Royale with Cheese”), so from this we can glean that Scientologists are not vegetarians, whatever else they might be.

I have actually made this recipe, to the letter, and it turned out pretty well. I made it for six, because Cornish hens are fairly small and you can do them all at once in the oven, but here’s the original recipe, which serves two. While I was roasting and basting away I made Better Half play this song, of course we have it on CD:

Can you dig it? Isaac Hayes had 14 children, so he [redacted for immature schoolboy humor beneath the dignity of a Celebrity Sunday Matinee post.]


2 Cornish hens

1/4 cup butter, plus butter to rub on hens

2/3 cup boiling water

Grated rind of 1/2 lemon

Juice of 1/2 lemon

1/2 cup orange juice

1/3 cup sugar

Pinch of salt

2 eggs, separated

1 teaspoon vanilla

Place hens breast side up on a rack in a roasting pan. Rub them with salt and butter. Roast at 350 degrees F. for 30 minutes per pound, basting frequently with 1/4 cup butter melted in 2/3 cup boiling water. Turn hens often. While they’re cooking, make sauce. Mix the rind, fruit juices, sugar, salt and beaten egg yolks in a saucepan. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until thickened. Add egg whites. Beat the sauce until stiff. Cool and add vanilla. Serve hens with sauce. Serves 2.


So you see, this isn’t very difficult, although I thought the sauce was a little too sugary-citrus-y. Our dinner guests seemed to enjoy it. If I ever do this again I think I will make a toned down orange glaze and cut down on the sugar and eliminate the vanilla. The other thing is when you make/serve Cornish hens you wind up with a lot of bones, so make sure to use plates with an ample space for you and your guests to put them aside. I served this with long-grain rice, because of the almost tropical theme of the sauce, but usually when I make Cornish hens (which isn’t often) I go full John Bull and serve with some kind of potatoes and baby carrots.



  1. What are the odds Hayes, Archer, Travolta or any of them read a single word of their recipes or even saw any of these dishes prepared?

    I’ve read that Vincent Price was a serious cook and he may well have had a hand in what appeared under his name. James Beard, however, was notorious for barely being involved in his cookbooks beyond the promotion.

    • I have absolutely no doubt that Vincent (and his wife Mary) were exceptional cooks. Price was also a noted and gifted art collector. I wouldn’t doubt that about James Beard.

      • As it turns out I’m cooking from Ismail Merchant’s cookbook right now and he seems pretty knowledgable about Indian food in a way I wouldn’t assume every upper crust Indian man was, but the book seems like it might involve more than he developed on his own.

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