Have you ever come across a recipe that calls for a capon and you have no idea what it is? A capon is a type of poultry wherein the rooster gets castrated before reaching sexual maturity and then fed a special diet of milk or porridge. It’s relatively larger than your standard supermarket chicken, but a little smaller than your Thanksgiving turkey. It yields a more tender, juicer meat with an interesting flavor profile that’s perfect for roasting.
Why you’re hearing about capons just now stems from various reasons. The fact that it is considered a rare treat that often costs 4x as much as a regular chicken. In the past, the wealthy often reserved it for events like Thanksgiving, Christmas dinners, banquets, etc. while working-class families rarely had it because it was quite expensive. Today, you would hardly see capons on a restaurant menu or in a grocery’s poultry section and you can blame it on the industrialization of meat production that has made capons rare.
Everything You Need to Know About Capon
What is a capon? Basically, a capon is a castrated rooster. The process of caponizing a male chicken is called caponization and it’s often performed between 6-20 weeks of age, depending on the poultry producer and the chicken breed. Traditionally, it’s done through the surgical removal of the testes, but mass-producers prefer to do it via estrogen implants. Either way, the result is a neutralization of the sex hormones that usually develop in roosters.
Because of the loss of sex hormones, capons become less aggressive. This makes them easier to handle than roosters as they can be caged together without the risk of potential fighting, and raised for several months until they reach a size of 6-12 pounds. They also undergo some physical changes wherein they develop smaller heads, combs, and wattles.
Capon vs. Regular Chicken
Castrating chickens also have an influence on the way their meat matures. Capons are known for their tender, fatty flesh that’s also more flavorsome and less gamey (tasting or smelling strong) than rooster meat. Because of their rich diet, they also tend to have a unique flavor that you wouldn’t find in other poultry. All these explain why their meat is white and moist when cooked.
With that said, it’s easy to assume that capons are better than chicken in many aspects. After all, they go through a more laborious process and costs more. But, for those who’ve had a capon, they would agree that it’s more of an acquired taste. This is particularly true if you’re more accustomed to the taste of regular chicken.
How to Cook a Capon
Through the Middle Ages, capons were popular throughout Europe and were served to the clergy and royalties. The poultry was roasted, stuffed, stewed, braised, and even baked as pies. Today, capons are occasionally served at Christmas. Its accumulation of extra fat results in more buttery and tender meat compared to regular chicken. This fat also adds more flavor to the meat.
You can prepare a capon like you would any other poultry dish. But, due to its larger size, the cooking time will be longer. For example, you should roast your capon for 17 minutes per pound or 3 hours for a 10 lb. bird. You would know the capon is ready when the thickest part of its thigh reads 165 degrees or the juices run clear. Don’t worry though, compared to chicken, a capon tends to be more forgiving—it has more fat content so it will not dry out as easily.
Where to Buy a Capon
How is it that the capon, a rare treat that was considered a luxury in the early 20th century, is almost forgotten even at this time when consumers demand a greater range of options?
As said above, capons are a lot more expensive than the regular chicken as raising them takes longer and is costlier to boot. Because of the lack of demand for capons, you would hardly see any large retailers selling capons. Your best bet to get one may involve contacting a local butcher or a boutique poultry farm that specializes in capons.
Depending on where you live, you may be able to find a capon in the frozen poultry section. But, because it’s not an item that people buy on a regular basis, capons may not be restocked as regularly as you would want them. Therefore, make sure to look at the sell-by date to ensure the quality and freshness of the meat.
At this point, hopefully, you already know what capon chickens are and why they’re called so. If you don’t intend to cook your capon immediately, you can store it in your fridge for up to three days. Make sure to keep it in a plastic bag to prevent any liquid from escaping and contaminating the rest of the contents of your fridge.
For longer storage, you can also freeze your capon for up to four months. Keep in mind, however, that it may start to lose its flavor after two months.
What are your thoughts about capons? If you will ever have access to this meat, how do you plan to cook it? Let us know by leaving a comment!