While the capon is a bird unfamiliar to many Americans, cooking one is no more difficult than roasting a regular chicken. The capon’s size, slightly larger than a regular chicken, makes it a good dish for a special family dinner, or as an alternative to a turkey.
Capons are young roosters that have been sugically castrated and allowed to grow to maturity. They are prized for their tenderness. Capons are larger than the typical chicken, weighing 7-10 pounds and about the size of a small turkey. The meat is more flavorful, and more “chickeny” than a standard grocery store chicken. As an added benefit, they are sometimes sustainably raised, but there have been concerns about animal cruelty.
In the Chicago area, many of the capons I buy come from Indiana and Iowa. Most capons are sold frozen in the US. If you cannot find one in your grocery store’s freezer case, you may need to place a special order. Because they are frozen, you will need to plan ahead for this special meal. Allow several days for the capon to thaw in the refrigerator, just as you would for a frozen turkey.
In addition to the capon, you will need:
4-6 whole lemons
several sprigs, or one supermarket package, of fresh oregano
1-2 medium onions, quartered
salt and fresh ground black pepper
a large roasting pan, and inexpensive rack that fits the pan, and a meat thermometer.
Rinse and clean the capon as you would a chicken or turkey, and place it breast side up on a rack in a large roasting pan. Insert the quartered onion(s) and carrot in the center of the cavity with half the herbs and 2 or 3 lemons, which are quartered but not peeled.
Find the spots near the cavity opening on either side of the breast where the skin is loose. Insert two or three fingers under the skin and gently side them around to create two pockets between the breast and the skin. Be careful not to tear the skin. Insert the remaining lemons, sliced thinly but not peeled, and the rest of the oregano.
Season the capon generously with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. Drizzle olive oil over the capon.
Preheat the oven to a very high temperature-450 degrees F. Place the capon in the oven and cook it at this temperature for 20 minutes. Turn the oven down to 325 and roast until a meat thermometer inserted in the thigh reads 175 degrees. Cooking time is similar to that for an unstuffed turkey, about 20 minutes per pound. There is no need to baste. If the skin browns too quickly, cover the pan loosely with aluminum foil.
Let the capon rest at least 20 minutes before carving, more if possible. Carve it as you would a chicken or turkey.