A capon is a special type of chicken created to make the meat more tender and less gamy. It is a rooster that has been castrated before reaching sexual maturity, which improves the quality of the meat; after that, it is fed a rich diet of milk or porridge. The lack of testosterone makes for a more tender, flavorful meat that is a delight compared to regular chicken. Unfortunately, in the United States today, it may be rare to see capon on a dinner menu or in the grocery store.
This poultry was once considered a luxury, and during the early part of the twentieth century, the capon was the chosen bird for Christmas feasts, especially for the wealthy. Working-class families saw capon as a rare treat because it was quite expensive.
What Is Capon?
Compared to rooster meat, which can be quite gamy, capon meat is tender and flavorful. It is also relatively fatty and has a high proportion of white meat. The absence of sex hormones causes the difference in taste and texture between capon meat and rooster meat. The lack of the hormone also allows more fat to form on the bird's muscles making them tender and buttery. Due to the nature of sex hormones, the rooster must be castrated before it reaches the age of maturity, otherwise, the changes in muscle density will have already occurred.
Castration makes the male chickens less aggressive too, which means less fighting among the birds. While roosters typically need to be separated, capons can usually be penned together without fear of feathers flying. They are also less energetic than other poultry, which helps their meat stay tender. While the lack of testosterone does mean that capons are smaller than the average rooster, a capon is still larger than an average chicken.
How to Cook Capon
You can prepare capon like any other poultry dish. Typically, capons are roasted and the procedure for doing so is similar to roasting a chicken; due to its larger size, however, the cooking time will be longer.
Traditionally, roosters are braised. For instance, the classic French dish coq au vin involves braising a rooster in red wine. That is because their meat is tougher than chicken meat and they are usually slaughtered at an older age, which toughens the meat as well. As such, braising is also a good cooking technique for preparing capon.
What Does Capon Taste Like?
A capon is more flavorful than a chicken as well as a turkey, with tender and juicy meat that is is void of any gamey taste. It is full-breasted and has a high-fat content, keeping what could become dry white meat nice and moist as it cooks.
If you do manage to find capon meat in your local grocery store, you can follow a braised chicken recipe to prepare it. A whole, cut-up capon combines with bacon, leeks, onion, garlic, rosemary, tomato paste, chicken stock, and white wine and cooks slowly until bubbling and cooked through. A roasted capon is a perfect centerpiece for a dinner party or holiday table.
Where to Buy Capon
Depending on where you live and how specialized your local supermarket is, you may be able to find a capon in the poultry section. Since capon is not an item that is bought often and therefore restocked regularly, it is important to look at the "sell-by" date, as well as the quality of the meat and make sure it's fresh.
If you don't see a capon in the poultry case, it is worth asking the butcher if he can get one for you. Otherwise, specialty groceries and online meat purveyors are your best bet.
If you don't plan to cook the capon immediately, you can store it in the refrigerator for two to three days. To be sure that no liquids escape into your fridge, place the packaged capon in a plastic bag first. For longer storage, you can freeze the capon for three to four months, although it will begin to lose its flavor after two months. If the capon came with giblets, remove them before freezing and store separately.