Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Why a Capon?

If you look at old recipes, especially those from the Renaissance, the preferred domestic fowl above all others is capon. I've always wondered, why not just a nice young chicken? The sort that we seem to like today? Well I think I finally figured it out this weekend. I suspected it was a flavor thing, sure. But it's actually even more a texture thing. Look at how wonderfully stringy that is. It shreds into a light kind of floss. I removed the breast and legs for roasting and put the rest in a pot for about 9 hours to gently simmer with vegetables for a brodo. The meat left on the bones was pure white, delicate, almost aethereal. Exactly the sort of whiteness you'd want in a blancmanger or the like. Even this dark meat is really light in texture, and I'm guessing this is why it was considered easier to digest than a chicken. It's also really moist and flavorful. Just a little pan drippings is all it needed. So is it worth it to find a capon? Absolutely.  

Here's an easy recipe to try from the Liber de coquina:

Capones et gallinas elixa et, positis speciebus et herbis odoriferis in mortario tere et etiam vitella ovorim et cum brodio distempera. Postea, insimul bulliantur quosque brodium sit gravatum.

Capons or chickens poach, and add spices and aromatic herbs, pound in a mortar and then egg yolks and temper with some broth. Next, boil briefly until the broth is thick.

The spices to use here would be cinnamon, sugar, maybe some nutmeg and herbs, parsley and maybe thyme. In the end you'll have a very interesting thick sauce. And remember to eat with your fingers.


antonioevans said...

I would assume this would be quite dry

Ken Albala said...

No, not in the least. Remarkably moist.

Elise Fleming/Alys K. said...

Well, fingers could work, but a spoon would be helpful for any sauce regardless of how thick. Remember, spoons and knives were the cutlery available at a meal.

Graystem Farm said...

I can guess the reason for using capon in the Renaissance has a lot to do with the fact that our current industrial broiler is a product of modern genetic research. It is designed to mature fast and young. Caponizing (neutering a male)halted sexual development and turned that energy toward meat production. Hens produced eggs so they weren't eaten until no longer productive -- and tough (Better for stews, soup, stock). Only one cockbird was needed per flock (12 or so) to produce more chicks.

We'll have to try this recipe after we learn to caponize!


It is also a lot easier on the hens and the hen house if you rid it of too many roosters. They don't lay eggs. It is also a numbers thing. More roosters and less hens.. somebody has to get culled. Capons are stringy.. but slow long cooking makes them palatable.