I have a recipe from James Peterson for chicken stock that asks for a chicken carcass and a stewing hen. So I'm wondering what the difference is. The problem is that my local grocery store only sells Cornish hens(I don't even know what a Cornish hen is.
What you're looking for is sometimes called a Heavy Hen.
In the supermarket, it will look much like a large roasting chicken, however the bones are larger and the meat is much tougher than chickens sold as roasters, broilers, or fryers.
Heavy hens aren't as common in supermarkets as are roasters, but if they have them, it should be labeled as a stewing chicken, stewing hen or a heavy hen. Ask your butcher, or someone in your store's meat department.
- Note that this is completely different from Cornish hens— they are tiny little birds by comparison, and not what you want for a stew.
If you can't find a heavy hen, you could substitute a large roasting chicken. There'll be a slight difference in the texture of meat, and the overall "chicken flavor" may be slightly less intense. Also, because a roasting chicken has smaller bones, there will be less gelatin released into the broth.
This may or may not make a difference in your recipe— but it won't be a big difference. A heavy hen might be preferable, but a roasting chicken will probably work just fine.
Commercial egg producers only keep hens for their peak producing years. After that, they are deemed to old and are "repurposed." Being older, their meat is tougher, so they typically are packaged for use in slow-cooking dishes such as simmered soups and stews. Thus, "stewing hens." Chickens bred for meat are typically younger, more tender, and can be male or female; ergo, the use of the more general term "chicken."