Golden Perfection Oven-Roasted Capon

I have never eaten, much less cooked a Capon Chicken, until tonight. The first time I ever heard of a Capon was shortly after Hubby and I were married. In conversation, my mother-in-law mentioned that she served a Capon for Thanksgiving, once most of the boys had left home. Having never heard of a Capon, I imagined a small bird – much like a game hen. Several years ago, I noticed that around Thanksgiving, our grocery store stocked Capons alongside the young Tom-Turkeys. Boy was I wrong in thinking a Capon was like a game hen. Capon chickens are not much smaller than Turkeys, weighing in around 8 to 10 pounds. Each year since, I’ve looked at the Capons – thought about them, but never actually bought one. (Per pound, a Capon when on sale, is at least twice the price of a turkey). This year, I decided to go for it. We brought the bird home and stuffed it into the freezer. Ever since, each week Hubby has complained about how much room the Capon took up in the freezer.

Once again, life kept getting in the way. The biggest problem was that I needed to wait until I had a nearly empty refrigerator to properly thaw the bird. The Capon occupied an entire shelf in the refrigerator, and took four days to completely thaw. This isn’t something you make on a whim – it requires a major commitment. Time to thaw, time to prepare, time to roast. All I could think was this darn chicken had better be worth the money, time and effort!

Just in case there are home cooks out there like me, without a clue as to what a Capon Chicken is all about – why it’s so big, and why it is so pricey – here’s the scoop. Silly me, I thought it was a big, fat chicken – as in hen. I thought Capon was a breed of chicken that produced extra plump hens. Wrong – wrong – wrong. A Capon isn’t a hen at all – it’s actually a rooster. A rooster that has been neutered at a very young age – a eunuch. The results are a bird with huge legs (like a turkey), long, lean thighs and extremely plump breasts. (Okay – how many of you are laughing your butts off right about now?) Hey, I didn’t even know you could castrate a baby rooster. Apparently, it’s not easy, so that’s why they fetch a fair price at market.

Since a Capon is such as special chicken, I didn’t want to prepare it in the usual way. I wanted to try something different. The results were incredible. The bird was so moist, so tender, so golden. No bag required. The bird was roasted on a V-Rack, uncovered, in a high-sided an enamel roasting pan. (Mine is old – I picked it up at an antique fair, and it makes the very best roasted meats).

Between the onions and lemons stuffed into the cavity and the water placed in the bottom of the roasting pan, there was no need to routinely baste the bird. Drippings were spooned over the breasts once. The rest of the time the capon simply roasted on its own.

How I wish I could find the words to describe the aroma that floated through my kitchen – so wonderful, earthy and incredible. Imagine rosemary and tarragon roasting together, carried through the air on a whisper of lemony-steam. The faint smell of warm butter and sage dancing together. Heavenly!

Golden Perfection Oven-Roasted Capon
1 whole (8 pound) Capon Chicken
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/4 pound unsalted butter, softened
2 lemons, cut into quarters
1/4 cup fresh chopped herbs (rosemary, tarragon, thyme and/or savory)
1 onion, cut into quarters
4 garlic cloves, smashed
Fresh whole herbs (rosemary, tarragon, thyme)
2 cups water
1/4 cup sherry

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Remove the neck and giblets from the cavity. Place in a pan with just enough water to simmer.

Rinse the chicken under cold water, inside and out. Pat dry thoroughly with paper towels. Season the body and cavity of the chicken generously with salt and pepper.

In a small bowl, mix together the butter, lemon juice and chopped herbs. (I used equal parts rosemary, tarragon and thyme leaves – only the most tender parts). Set aside until ready to use.

Place the lemon halves, onion, garlic and whole herbs inside the bird. While it might not seem possible to fit all the lemons and onions into the cavity, believe me it is – just keep shoving and watch the breasts rise as the cavity fills. Secure the neck and cavity closed by pulling skin together and holding in place with skewers.

Rub the herb butter all over the chicken. (You may need to blot bird with paper towels as you spread the butter). Be sure pull the wings out straight and rub with butter as well coating the legs completely.

Once buttered, pull legs up and tight against the breasts. Tie with twine to secure legs together. Fold and tuck wing tips under bird.

Place the chicken, breast side down, on a V-rack in a roasting pan. Cooking the capon on a rack helps make its skin crisp and keeps it from sticking to the bottom of the pan. Pour water in the roasting pan to prevent the fat drippings from burning and smoking.

Roast the capon for 20 minutes breast side down. Remove bird from oven, closing the oven door to maintain temperature. Carefully turn breast-side up. Tip the pan, and using a large spoon baste the bird all over with the pan drippings.

Reduce the oven to 375 degrees and return the pan to the oven. Continue to roast until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh reads 165 degrees, about 1-1/2 to 2 hours longer.

Remove the chicken to a platter and let stand for 15 minutes so the juices settle back into the meat before carving.

Meanwhile, pour the drippings from the roasting pan into a gravy separator or measuring cup to let the fat rise to the top. Skim and discard the fat then return the pan juices back in the roasting pan. Add about 1/4 cup of the gibbet water to the roasting pan. Place the roasting pan on top of the stove over medium heat. Add the sherry and deglaze, scraping up the browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Season with salt and pepper, and serve with chicken.