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Capon: Fantastically Flavorful

W hat is a capon? A capon is a male chicken that is gelded, or castrated, at a young age, and then fed a rich diet of milk or porridge. Larger than a chicken, a bit smaller than a turkey, but more flavorful than either, capons are full breasted with tender, juicy, flavorful meat that is well suited to roasting. They tend to be less gamey than an intact rooster would, and have a higher fat content. Because of its size, the capon is a good choice to feed a dinner party, or even a small Thanksgiving gathering in place of turkey.

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Raising Capons

Caponization is done either by surgical removal of the testes, or, as some factory poultry producers prefer, by estrogen implants. Capons that are labeled “all natural” have been surgically caponized. Because of the loss of sex hormones, the normally aggressive barnyard rooster becomes a docile, mellow creature. Capons can be housed together as they will not fight for dominance, which makes the process of raising them a lot easier on the farmer. They can be raised for many months, to a size of 6-12 pounds. 

Cooking a Capon

Capons require longer cooking times than typical chickens because of their larger size. They can be roasted like any chicken,but due to size will take longer. As a general rule, a capon should be roasted for 17 minutes per pound, so a 10 lb. bird would require a total roasting time of just under 3 hours. The capon is done when a meat thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the capon's thigh reads 165 degrees or the juices run clear. Whether poached, as in poule au pot, or stuffed and roasted, capons offer rich taste and lots of meat to go around the table.

A Brief History of the Capon

Humankind has been eating chicken for a long time—at least since 4000 BC in Asia—but the capon’s history is a bit murkier. It seems the Romans were the first to castrate a young male chicken and then fatten it, when a law was passed during a period of drought (162 BC) forbidding the fattening of hens, as it was deemed a waste of precious grain. Wily breeders skirted the letter of the law by instead castrating roosters and fattening them for sale. The name “capon” comes from the Latin “capo,” meaning “cut.” Through the Middle Ages, capons were especially popular with the clergy and kings, and thus popularized throughout Europe, where capon was stuffed, roasted, stewed and baked into pies. In present-day France and Italy, capons are traditionally served at Christmas.