Up until about three years ago I had never eaten, much less cooked a Capon Chicken. The first time I ever heard of a Capon was shortly after Hubby and I were married. In conversation, my mother-in-law mentioned that she served a Capon for Thanksgiving, once most of the boys had left home. Having never heard of a Capon, I imagined a small bird – much like a game hen. About six or seven years ago, I noticed that around Thanksgiving, our grocery store stocked Capons alongside the young Tom-Turkeys. Boy was I wrong in thinking a Capon was like a game hen. Capon chickens are not much smaller than Turkeys, weighing in around 8 to 10 pounds. I began to look at the Capons – thought about them, but never actually bought one until a few years ago. (Per pound, a Capon when on sale, is at least twice the price of a turkey). That year, I decided to go for it. We brought the bird home and stuffed it into the freezer. For several months after stuffing the big bird in the freezer, Hubby has complained on a weekly bases about how much room the Capon took up in the freezer. Every time he had to try to fit things into the freezer, that big bird mocked his efforts.
Once again, life kept getting in the way of dining plans. The biggest problem was that I needed to wait until I had a nearly empty refrigerator to properly thaw the bird. As it turned out, the Capon occupied an entire shelf in the refrigerator, and took four days to completely thaw. One thing was certain – roasting a capon isn’t something you do on a whim – it requires a major commitment. Time to thaw, time to prepare, time to roast. All I could think was this darn chicken had better be worth the money, time and effort!
Just in case there are home cooks out there like me, without a clue as to what a Capon Chicken is all about – why it’s so big, and why it is so pricey – here’s the scoop. Silly me, I thought it was a big, fat chicken – as in hen. I thought Capon was a breed of chicken that produced extra plump hens. Wrong – wrong – wrong. A Capon isn’t a hen at all – it’s actually a rooster. A rooster that has been neutered at a very young age – a eunuch. The results are a bird with huge legs (like a turkey), long, lean thighs and extremely plump breasts. (Okay – how many of you are laughing your butts off right about now?) Hey, I didn’t even know you could castrate a baby rooster. Apparently, it’s not easy, so that’s why they fetch a pretty penny at market.
Just in case you were wondering, here’s a quick breakdown of common chicken labels from the largest to smallest:
Capon – A Capon is a young male, weighing between 6 and 10 lbs. They have generous amounts of while meat, and are known to be very tender. They are typically roasted.
Roaster – A Roaster usually weighs 3.3 – 5 pounds and offers more meat than a frying chicken. These are typically roasted whole.
Broiler/fryer – Broilers and fryers are young tender chickens between 2.5 and 3.5 pounds. They can be cooked in a variety of ways including (as suggested) fried.
Cornish Hen – The Cornish hen is the smallest weighing on average 1 to 2 pounds. They are usually stuffed and oven baked whole.
Note: Older birds that are no longer “productive” on the farm are also slaughtered and eaten. Here in America, these older birds are not generally found in the supermarkets, but can be found at some farmer’s markets or individual farms.
Stewing/baking hen – A stewing or baking hen is a mature hen, usually no longer laying eggs, and the meat is less tender. These are best used in long cooking stews.
Cock or Rooster – The Cock or Rooster is a mature male, with course skin and tougher less tender meat. To enjoy this bird requires long and moist slow cooking.
Since a Capon is such a special chicken, I didn’t want to prepare it in the usual way. I wanted to try something different. The results were incredible. The bird was so moist, so tender, so golden. No bag required. The bird was roasted on a V-Rack, uncovered, in a high-sided enamel roasting pan. (Mine is old – I picked it up at an antique fair, and it makes the very best roasted meats).
Between the onions and lemons stuffed into the cavity and the water placed in the bottom of the roasting pan, there was no need to routinely baste the bird. Drippings were spooned over the breasts just once. The rest of the time the capon simply roasted on its own.
How I wish I could find the words to adequately describe the aroma that floated through my kitchen – so wonderful, earthy and incredible. Imagine rosemary and tarragon roasting together, carried through the air on a whisper of lemony-steam. The faint smell of warm butter and sage danced together in a waltz that was incredible. Heavenly!
Golden Perfection Oven-Roasted Capon
1 whole (8 pound) Capon Chicken
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/4 pound unsalted butter, softened
2 lemons, cut into quarters
1/4 cup fresh chopped herbs (rosemary, tarragon, thyme and/or savory)
1 onion, cut into quarters
4 garlic cloves, smashed
Fresh whole herbs (rosemary, tarragon, thyme)
2 cups water
1/4 cup sherry
Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Remove the neck and giblets from the cavity. Place in a pan with just enough water to simmer.
Rinse the chicken under cold water, inside and out. Pat dry thoroughly with paper towels. Season the body and cavity of the chicken generously with salt and pepper.
In a small bowl, mix together the butter, lemon juice and chopped herbs. (I used equal parts rosemary, tarragon and thyme leaves – only the most tender parts). Set aside until ready to use.
Place the lemon halves, onion, garlic and whole herbs inside the bird. While it might not seem possible to fit all the lemons and onions into the cavity, believe me it is – just keep shoving and watch the breasts rise as the cavity fills. Secure the neck and cavity closed by pulling skin together and holding in place with skewers.
Rub the herb butter all over the chicken. (You may need to blot bird with paper towels as you spread the butter). Be sure pull the wings out straight and rub with butter as well coating the legs completely.
Once buttered, pull legs up and tight against the breasts. Tie with twine to secure legs together. Fold and tuck wing tips under bird.
Place the chicken, breast side down, on a V-rack in a roasting pan. Cooking the capon on a rack helps make its skin crisp and keeps it from sticking to the bottom of the pan. Pour water in the roasting pan to prevent the fat drippings from burning and smoking.
Roast the capon for 20 minutes breast side down. Remove bird from oven, closing the oven door to maintain temperature. Carefully turn breast-side up. Tip the pan, and using a large spoon baste the bird all over with the pan drippings.
Reduce the oven to 375 degrees and return the pan to the oven. Continue to roast until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh reads 165 degrees, about 1-1/2 to 2 hours longer.
Remove the chicken to a platter and let stand for 15 minutes so the juices settle back into the meat before carving.
Meanwhile, pour the drippings from the roasting pan into a gravy separator or measuring cup to let the fat rise to the top. Skim and discard the fat then return the pan juices back in the roasting pan. Add about 1/4 cup of the gibbet water to the roasting pan. Place the roasting pan on top of the stove over medium heat. Add the sherry and deglaze, scraping up the browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Season with salt and pepper, and serve with chicken.