Makes 4 servings
2 Cornish game hens or poussins (11/4-11/2 pounds each), rinsed inside and out
For the brine:
1/2 cup kosher salt
1/4 cup superfine sugar
10 cups tepid water
5-6 unpeeled garlic cloves
1 teaspoon white peppercorns
A thumb-size hunk of unpeeled ginger, coarsely sliced against the grain
1 large unpeeled stalk lemongrass, cut into 2-inch lengths
1 small handful cilantro stems, preferably with roots attached, torn in half
2-3 whole green onions, torn in half
For the stuffing:
3 large stalks lemongrass, outer layer, bottom 1/2 inch, and top 4 inches removed
33/4 ounces unpeeled garlic cloves, halved lengthwise (about 3/4 cup)
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon ground white pepper
2 oz. thin sliced cilantro stems (about 1/2 cup)
For the marinade:
2 tablespoons Thai fish sauce
2 tablespoons Thai thin soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons fried shallot oil (see recipe)
1/4 cup honey mixed well with 2 tablespoons hot water
One recommended dip:
Naam Jim Kai (sweet chile dip, see recipe)
1. Brine the birds: whisk salt and sugar with the 10 cups of tepid water in a large mixing bow until the sugar and salt fully dissolve. Combine the garlic, peppercorns, ginger, and lemongrass in a mortar and lightly pound to bruise and slightly crush them. Add along with the cilantro and green onions to the brine, then add the birds breast side down. If they float, weigh them down with a plate. Birds should be completely submerged. Cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours, but preferably overnight.
2. Make the stuffing: Remove the birds, discarding the brine, and sit them butt down in a colander to drain.
3. Cut lemongrass crosswise into rough 1/8-inch slices. Firmly pound it in a granite mortar until it's very fragrant, about 10 seconds. Add the garlic and pound to break it into small pieces (not a paste), about 20 seconds. Add the salt and pepper, pound briefly, then add the cilantro stems and pound to bruise them, about 10 seconds more.
4. Divide the stuffing equally among the birds' cavities, set the birds breast side up on a plate (or even better, a rack set over an oven tray) so there's some space between them. Tuck each wing tip under the body. Put the birds in the fridge, uncovered, to dry out for at least 4 hours, or up to 12.
5. Marinate the birds: stir fish sauce, soy sauce, sugar, and pepper in small bowl along with the 2 tablespoons of water until the sugar is fully dissolved. Brush the birds with the marinade, then put them back, uncovered, into the fridge for 2 hours.
6. To cook: If using a grill (recommended method), heat grill to 350-375 degrees and prepare it for indirect cooking, pushing coals to one side of grill to form a mound. Add the birds, breasts up, to the grill rack opposite the charcoal, and cover the grill, with vents open in lid directly over the birds to foster smoky flavor. Cook for 25 minutes, flip the birds over to get color on the other side, and after about 5 minutes, flip the birds over again.
7. After 5 minutes, brush birds all over with shallot oil and re-cover grill. After 5 minutes, brush birds with honey mixture and move them directly over the coals. Keep cooking, covered, turning over and rotating the birds to achieve even browning, and brushing occasionally with the honey mixture until the skin is glossy golden brown with dark patches, and the thigh juices run clear, 5 to 10 minutes, depending on the birds.
8. If using oven, move rack to the bottom third of oven and preheat to 350 degrees. Bake birds on a rack over a baking tray breast side up for 30 minutes. Rotate pan and brush all over with the shallot oil. Cook for 5 minutes more, then brush with honey mixture. Raise heat to 400 degrees. Check every 5 minutes, brushing them with honey mixture until done, as per instructions above.
9. Let birds rest 10 to 30 minutes. Serve whole or carved, with dipping sauces.