A capon is a rooster that has been castrated before reaching sexual maturity. The reason a rooster is made into a capon (caponized) is to improve the quality of the meat. The lack of testosterone creates a more tender, flavorful meat, that is a delight compared to regular chicken.
In the United States today, it's uncommon to see capon on a dinner menu or in the grocery store, but it was once considered a luxury. During the early part of the 20th 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.
Capons Make Better Meals
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 testosterone 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 roosters 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. However, the lack of testosterone does mean that capons are smaller than the average rooster.
The process of making a rooster into a capon is called caponization. A capon is usually castrated at around eight weeks of age or earlier. They are generally slaughtered at around 10 months, sometimes younger. This is actually a long lifespan when compared with standard roasting chickens, which are typically butchered around 12 weeks.
In some countries, capons are also force-fed in order to fatten them up. Since an industrial chicken can be slaughtered in under five weeks, most industrial chicken farms do not produce capons. This can make capon meat hard to find in grocery stores, but there are specialty farms that still produce capons.
When it comes to preparing capon, you can treat it like any other poultry dish. Typically, capons are roasted and the procedure for doing so is similar to roasting a chicken.
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.
If you do manage to find capon meat in your local grocery store, you can follow this braised chicken recipe to prepare it. You'll simply swap the chicken for the capon and get the opportunity to enjoy one of the most tender white meats available.