Text Susan Jung / Photography Stanley Shin / Styling Nellie Ming Lee When it comes to holiday cooking, many people automatically think of turkey. That's great for when you want to feed a crowd, but if it's just a small group - or a romantic dinner for two - you need something that won't leave you eating leftovers for days. Chicken is one option but for the holidays, you want something a bit special. I like small birds, such as poussins or Cornish hens. The birds are raised to varying weights (the ones I buy weigh just over 600 grams each), so one per person is a holiday-appropriate, lavish serving, but not so much so that it is wasteful. Deep-fried Cornish hens Deep-frying small birds is a baby step towards making deep-fried turkey, which is something I'm never going to try because it seems so dangerous (look on YouTube for deep fried-turkey disasters). If you have a pot that's wide and deep enough, you can fry two birds at a time. The meat - even the breast - will be moist. If you're cooking for more than four people, it's best to bake the hens in the oven (instructions for that are at the end of the recipe), because you wouldn't save that much time by frying. Once you're sure they are fully defrosted (check the cavity for ice), marinate the hens overnight. 2-4 Cornish hens or poussins, 600 grams each 4 large garlic cloves, each one sliced into four pieces 2 bay leaves, torn into small pieces The zest and juice of one lemon Fine sea salt and rough-flaked sea salt Oil, for deep-frying Fresh herbs (such as rosemary, thyme or sage), for garnishing If roasting the birds: 15 grams unsalted butter and 15ml cooking oil, for each bird Take the fully defrosted birds from their packaging. Put one bird in the pot you intend to fry them in. It should be large enough that there's at least 2cm of room around the perimeter, and deep enough so that there's at least 4cm of space from the top. You can put two birds in a pot if it is big enough to hold them so that they're not touching. Using a measuring cup, add water to the pot until the bird is completely submerged. Make a note of how much water you added - this is the amount of oil you will need to fry them. Dry the birds inside and out with paper towels. Pull off any excess fat from inside and chop off the wing tip and middle joint (save these for making stock for the gravy), leaving only the drumette portion. Sprinkle fine salt lightly but evenly over the birds and inside the cavity, then rub the salt into the skin. Put the birds in a large bowl and add the sliced garlic and the bay leaves. Use a fine rasp grater to grate the lemon zest over the birds, then add the lemon juice. Mix well so the birds are evenly seasoned, then cover with cling-film and refrigerate for at least eight hours, mixing occasionally. Remove the birds from the fridge about an hour before you want to cook them. Drain off the marinade and discard the pieces of garlic and bay leaf. Use paper towels to thoroughly dry the birds - this is important, because too much moisture will cause the oil to splatter excessively. Place the birds cavity-side down on a rack and leave to air-dry in a cool spot for about an hour. Use kitchen twine to truss the birds (video tutorials for this are available on YouTube), tying off the end of the string in a large bow with a double knot (you'll use the bow to move the bird in and out of the oil, so it needs to be sturdy). Measure out the correct amount of cooking oil and pour it into the pot. Heat the oil to 180 degrees Celsius. Put a long, sturdy, wooden implement (such as the handle of a wooden spoon) through the loop of the bow and use it to slowly lower the bird into the oil - don't do it too fast or the oil will splatter excessively. Take the spoon from the loop. If your pot is big enough, slowly lower in the second bird. Start timing - a 600 gram bird will take six to seven minutes to cook - and adjust the flame so the oil stays between 165 and 175 degrees. The bird is ready when it reaches an internal temperature of 65 degrees (use a probe thermometer inserted at the point where the thigh meets the body, but do not touch the bone; don't do this more than once, because poking the bird will make the juices run out, which will make the oil splatter more). When the bird is cooked, lift it out of the oil and place it cavity-side down on a rack while cooking the other birds. Place the birds on a platter, stuff fresh herbs in the cavity, and serve. If roasting the birds, preheat the oven to 200 degrees. Lightly oil a roasting pan large enough to hold the birds without them touching. Dry the marinated birds with paper towels, but do not truss them. Heat 30 grams of butter in a large skillet and add 30ml cooking oil. When the butter/oil is hot, add two birds, breast side up, to the skillet. Sear the birds, and spoon the hot butter/oil over the breast, to brown it well. When the birds are browned, put them breast-side down in the roasting pan. Wash out the skillet and brown the remaining birds the same way. Place the pan in the oven, lower the heat to 180 degrees and cook for 20 minutes. Turn the birds over and cook until they reach an internal temperature of 65 degrees, measured where the thigh meets the body, but not touching the bone. Let the birds rest for 15 minutes, then serve.