f you are considering an intimate holiday for two, or even a dinner party of six, and are in a quandary about the practicality of a turkey versus a stuffed chicken, there is no need to fret any further, because we have the perfect solution. Forget about those two and do something truly special and better scaled to your needs: roast a capon.
Smaller than a Turkey - Bigger than a Basic Chicken
If you are not familiar with this hefty bird, do not think for a minute that a capon is a compromise you have to make because you are not feeding a small army. Quite the contrary, these extraordinary birds are raised exclusively to be a culinary treat of the highest order. Plump breasted with prized, white flesh wonderfully marbled with fat; capons can easily carry any holiday feast. It can be especially gratifying for the cook, as this is not a bird upstaged by any dressing or side dish. When you are lucky enough to have the pleasure of eating an oven-roasted capon, you will find the meat distinctively flavorful, lusciously rich and moist, and tender beyond belief. So much so, that this could be the start of a new tradition. At the very least, you will not want to wait another whole year before enjoying one again.
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Another beauty is that there is no elaborate recipe, complex technique, or special handling required. Fill this bird with your favorite dressing, or season the cavity with a good sea salt and freshly ground pepper, and truss it. Then rub it with softened, rendered duck fat, salt and pepper the skin and oven roast, much like roasting a large chicken. You might even want to try some new cooking methods to go with your new bird. In the Gascon countryside, capons are the traditional Sunday chicken cooked as poule au pot – slowly poached in a pot of vegetables and rich stock, and stuffed with a delicious soft dressing.
The Well Trussed Capon
When roasting a capon for your holiday meal, truss it much the same as you would a turkey or a chicken. Remove the wishbone, and bind the bird so that its drumsticks rest nicely in place against the tip of the breastbone, with the wing tips folded back neatly beneath the shoulders. It will make for a beautiful shape, cook more evenly and be easier to carve. This is especially brilliant because capons are the perfect bird to carve at the table. Large enough to be grand, they make for an impressive entrance, yet they are small enough to manage easily.
Two Stage Roasting
Roasting begins on the lower middle oven rack in a preheated 450°F oven, then 30 minutes into the roasting the heat is reduced to 350°F for the remainder of the cooking time. This jump-starts the browning process and sears the meat, sealing in precious juices. You turn the bird a few times in the process, and baste every 10 or 15 minutes. Rub the capon with our pure, rendered duck fat, lightly softened before gently massaging it into the skin. Season the capon with good salt and freshly ground pepper before putting it in the oven, and baste with melted duck fat until the bird creates enough of its own pan juices for basting.
If you are using an x-shaped rack, you can start the bird breast down for about 15 minutes. Then turn the bird on one side for 20 minutes, then onto its other side for 20 minutes. After that, turn the bird breast up and finish roasting. You can easily coordinate this with your basting. If you use a flat rack, forget about starting breast down, and instead start roasting on one side, then turn onto the other, giving each side an extra five minutes, and finish roasting breast up.
For a 7-pound capon, this should take about 1-1/2 hours. Use a quick-read meat thermometer to test the internal temperature for doneness. Transfer it immediately to a board to rest, tilting it first over the roasting pan to quickly drain any juices. The juices running from the vent should be clear yellow down to the last drop. Let the bird rest uncovered in a warm place for 20 minutes before carving. Remember it will retain heat just like any other roasted meat, and continue cooking during this time raising the internal temperature another 5 degrees or so. The ideal final internal temperature for cooked poultry is 165°F.
- A 7-pound capon will yield 6 to 8 single servings. If you make a dressing, allow 1/2 cup per serving. Be careful not to over stuff the bird. Cook any excess stuffing in a separate baking dish.
- Put the bird into the oven legs first to position the dark meat towards the back of the oven.
- Since this roasting method requires frequent basting, it is important to do it as quickly as possible to better maintain oven temperature.
- This bird is so amazing all on its own, that a spoon or two of a delicious deglazing sauce just before serving is all you need, which is nice if you don’t feel like making a full blown gravy. You can add a chopped onion and carrot to the roasting pan about 50 minutes into the roasting to enhance the flavor of the roasting juices. A little minced garlic or shallot sautéed in the drippings before adding the deglazing liquid will add even more flavor. Simmer this sauce for several minutes allowing it to reduce and concentrate, then strain through a sieve before using.