What Is a Capon?

Roast capon
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While in the United States, it's uncommon to see capon on the menu -- but it was once considered a luxury. A capon is a rooster that has been castrated before reaching sexual maturity. The reason a rooster is made into a capon has mostly to do with the quality of the meat, but also, a capon is less aggressive than a rooster and is easier to handle. The lack of testosterone causes fat to build up in the rooster's muscles which create a tender, flavorful meat. In the early 20th century, the capon was the chosen bird for Christmas feasts. Working class families saw capon as a rare treat because it was once quite expensive.

Capons Make Better Meals

Capon meat is tender and flavorful, compared with rooster meat, which can be quite gamy. Capon meat is also relatively fatty and has a high proportion of white meat. The difference between capon meat and rooster meat is due to the absence of sexual hormones. 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, which means less fighting among the birds. Roosters typically need to be separated, but capons can usually be penned together without causing feathers to fly. They are also less energetic than other poultry, which helps their meat to stay tender. However, the lack of testosterone does mean capons are smaller than the average rooster.

How Capons Are Made

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. Capons are generally slaughtered at around 10 months of age or younger (as compared with around 12 weeks for a regular roasting chicken). In some countries, capons are also force-fed in order to fatten them up. Because 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.

How to Prepare Capon

When it comes to preparing capon, you can treat it like any other poultry dish. Usually, capons are roasted, and the procedure for doing so is really no different from roasting a chicken. Traditionally, roosters are braised (the classic French dish coq au vin involves braising a rooster in red wine), because their meat is tougher than chicken meat and they are usually slaughtered at an older age, which makes the meat tougher. 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, simply swapping the chicken for the capon.