From The Horn of Plenty to the myriad mouths to feed, Thanksgiving is all about abundance. Your bird should reflect that. Perhaps on the basis of size alone, turkey is the default — but there’s a better way to feed your folks. A more delicious, more moist, more tender way. Its name: the capon.
In the words of George Beuoy, a frugally minded farmer from the early 20th century: “Capon in the olden times was the crowning event in the feast of the ancient kings and queens…. Their rich, wholesome, tender flesh contains the life-giving, brain-forming strength-producing food that is required by the high-strung workingman of modern times, be his work indoors or out.”
Quite the sales pitch. Capon is, in short, an “unsexed” rooster (read: castrated, like some beef cattle), the emasculation of which results in a bird twice as large as normal, and therefore capable of feeding an entire family. The jury’s out on the supposedly extraordinary life-giving, brain-forming, strength-producing qualities of capon. But this much is for sure: it combines all the best qualities of your favorite white meat — the sheer size of turkey, the audibly crispy skin of a perfectly roasted chicken, and the perfect moisture of pork (you know, the other white meat).
Chef David Waltuck, of Chanterelle fame, invited us to watch him prepare capon at élan, his new restaurant in Gramercy, Manhattan. “A lot of people like to fuss over it”, he told us, “but it’s not really necessary.” Waltuck oiled the bird up the way a boxing coach rubs his pupil’s shoulders after a long practice. To prepare the accompanying sauce, he added one…two…three cubes of butter — whisked for a second or two, then smirked knowingly and added two more. His recipe, featured below, is simple but wildly effective, sure to knock turkey right out of the mind of whoever takes a bite. And with minimal preparation, you’ll have plenty to eat and plenty of time to focus on more important things: enjoying the big game, sneaking handfuls of stuffing, and so on.
1. First, remove the legs. With a boning knife, cut down on the skin and meat between the leg and the body until you reach the joint; then, use you hands to separate the joint. Use the knife to separate it completely. Set aside.
2. Move to the capon breast and wings. Start by cutting down one side of the breast bone with the boning knife. Keep carving along the ribs, pulling the breast meat and the wing away. Set aside.
3. With a chef knife, separate the drumstick and thigh of the leg by going through the joint.
4. Separate the wing from the breast by finding the joint with the chef knife.
5. Slice the breast and slice the meat off the thigh and leg.
6. Place on individual plates, or on a large platter and serve.
- 1 capon, 6-8 pounds
- 3 tablespoons rendered chicken fat or olive oil
- 2 quarts peeled garlic cloves (no problem using store bought peeled garlic, as long as it’s fresh
- 1 bottle (750mL) California white verjus*
- 3 quarts chicken stock or canned low-sodium chicken broth
- 3/4 pound unsalted butter, cut into pieces
- 2 tablespoons of coarsely chopped flat leaf parsley
- Coarse (kosher) salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- Lemon juice
*California verjus is less sour than the more traditional French verjus. Chef Waltuck prefers a brand called Fusion Napa Valley Verjus.
1. Preheat oven to 400°F. 2. Rinse the capon, inside and out, under cold running water, removing any excess fat. Pat dry with paper towels. If you wish, tuck the wing tips under the second joints and tie the legs together with butcher’s twine. 3. Rub the capon all over with the chicken fat or oil and sprinkle, inside and out, with salt and pepper. Place the capon in a flameproof roasting pan that can hold it with a little extra room to spare. Roast for 30 minutes, basting occasionally with pan drippings. 4. Reduce the heat to 350, and continue roasting for about 1 1/2 additional hours. Capon is done when the juices from the thigh run mostly clear with some pink; at the end, an instant read thermometer will read 150. 5. Carefully transfer the capon to a platter and keep warm, covered loosely with aluminum foil, while you prepare the garlic and sauce. Bear in mind that it will continue cooking as it rests. 6. Add the peeled garlic to the roasting pan and return it to the oven. Cook, stirring occasionally, till the garlic is golden brown and soft, but still holding its shape, about 20-30 minutes. 7. Remove the garlic with a slotted spoon, and set aside. If possible, place the roasting pan on a burner or burners on top of the stove at a medium heat. 8. Add the verjus and deglaze, scraping the pan to dislodge and dissolve the browned bits. Pour into a large sauce pot. On high heat, boil the liquid till reduced by 2/3. 9. Add the chicken stock, and continue to boil till reduced by about half. Turn the heat to medium low and whisk in the butter, which will thicken the sauce. Taste and season with salt, and a little lemon, if needed. Add the garlic and parsley to the sauce. 10. Carve the capon, and serve with the sauce poured over.