Tuesday, February 5, 2013

The Last Capon

Our last meal together was a capon.  During the holidays, we like to make a few singular repasts, things you don’t have every day (such as truffles) or which are part of traditional holiday meals.  Capon is an Italian holiday specialty that I was eagerly looking forward to making.  Last year, I prepared Bleu Chickens that Sasha went nuts for – she watched the oven for the entire roasting cycle-- and I expected the same enthusiastic response when I ordered an eight pound capon from D’Artagnan.  But our little Sasha had become a very finicky eater of late. She began rejecting standard fare for more urbane platings.  We first thought this was because her ever-sophisticated palate had become even more discerning, which may have been partly the case, but the hard reality was the cancer had spread.  However, it was easier to live in a Fantasyland and imagine she was secretly working for the Michelin Guide or Peter Mayle, rating the food her masters’ provided, and giving anywhere from four paws up to no paws at all. 

The produce at Chino Farms accompanied our  holiday dinner

The last few months were about our little girl, and treasuring every moment we had with her.  When we cooked, we did so to please her, to find things she enjoyed and would eat, and to create some special memories for our little family of three.  Cooking for blogging purposes wasn’t important.  But let’s get back to the Last Capon.

 A capon is a rooster that has been castrated – not a very romantic description, but factual, and something I occasionally wish upon my sous chef.  Due to castration, the bird lacks a bit of sex hormones, making it  milder tempered and easier to handle.  Because of this hormonal imbalance, and by not aggressively playing the role of Chief Rooster, the meat becomes more tender and fatty, resulting in a less gamy taste than the typical rooster or hen.  Since a capon is larger than a chicken but smaller than a turkey, with supple, moist breast meat, it is the perfect alternative when you are craving turkey but are a small family and don’t want the leftovers for the next week.  This is a special meal, the kind you savor, and memories are made from.  Not special in the fancy pants, show off sort of way, but the made from love kind.  When our Sasha went to Doggie Heaven on Christmas Eve, we hope she took with her thoughts of a scrumptious Last Capon

The Last Capon – Adapted from Golden Oven Roasted Capon, Tyler Florence
Prep Time – 50 Minutes
Cooking Time – 2 hours 20 minutes
Serves 8
1 whole (8 pound) capon
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/4 pound unsalted butter, softened (this is to rub the capon with herb/butter mix – so don’t melt)
2 lemons, cut in half, plus 2 tablespoons lemon juice (Meyer lemons work well)
1/4 cup fresh chopped herbs, such as tarragon, thyme, rosemary or savory (can use dried if needed)
A large handful of fresh, whole herbs, such as tarragon leaves, thyme and savory sprigs (if you can’t use fresh herbs, then substitute dried in a an amount you deem appropriate)
1 onion, cut in half (don’t dice, splice or julienne – just cut in half)
4 garlic cloves, smashed (again, no fancy knife skills required)
2 cups water
1/4 cup sherry
Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Remove the neck and giblets from the cavity and rinse the capon under cold water, inside and out. Pat dry thoroughly with paper towels. Season the body and cavity of the capon generously with salt and pepper. In a small bowl, mix together the butter, lemon juice and chopped herbs. Rub the herbed butter all over the capon. Put the lemon halves, onion, garlic and whole herbs inside the bird. Tie the legs together with kitchen twine to help hold its shape.  (Note:  some capons have a bib of skin that will hold the legs together when placed in bib.)

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

Roast the capon for about 20 minutes, then carefully turn the bird over breast side up. To do this, take the pan out of the oven, close the oven door to maintain the temperature, and rotate the capon while the pan sits on the counter. Baste the capon all over with the pan drippings. Turn the heat down to 375 degrees F 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 to 170 degrees F, count on this taking about 2 hours. Remove the capon to a platter, cover with foil 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 and then return the pan juices back 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 the capon. (If you are not a gravy fan, like sous chef, skip the gravy and just dig into the bird.)

The rainbow the morning we lost Sasha - I guess it was waiting for her at the end of it